The 2018 September issue of American Vogue is here. As we know, Beyoncé is its cover star. She was shot by Tyler Mitchell, the first black photographer to ever shoot a Vogue cover. Last week, Lainey wrote about the reports that Beyoncé was given “unprecedented control” over the issue, including hand-picking Tyler Mitchell herself and writing her own feature. The story went like this: Beyoncé had dismantled one of the oldest institutions in fashion from the inside, exposing its 126-year history of prejudice and proving the power of Beyoncé.
Conde Nast is now trying to change that narrative. Anna Wintour and creative director Raul Martinez told Business of Fashion that, “The concept and the photographer was entirely Vogue’s, specifically Raul’s.” After this quote, the BoF article elaborates on how the choice was made.
After being presented with options for photographers, Knowles immediately approved of Mitchell, recognising the historic implications of the choice.
And here’s what Beyoncé says in her Vogue essay about the choice to hire Tyler.
“Until there is a mosaic of perspectives coming from different ethnicities behind the lens, we will continue to have a narrow approach and view of what the world actually looks like. That is why I wanted to work with this brilliant 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell.”
That’s just a couple sentences of Beyoncé’s feature in Vogue in her own words “as told to Clover Hope.” Some people are calling it an interview but Clover’s questions (if there were any) do not appear in the piece. It’s just headings leading into very specific, very purposeful words by Beyoncé. It’s atypical to Vogue’s regular format. The fact that Beyoncé curated every word about her in the September issue of Vogue proves that she DID have “unprecedented control” and even if it was Anna and Raul who presented Tyler as an option, it would have been Beyoncé’s final call. And it was her call to make sure Vogue finally gave a chance to a black photographer.
In their own pages, Beyoncé calls out Vogue and institutions like it who have spent decades ignoring people of colour and denying them the same opportunities as their white counterparts. Anna Wintour may be now trying to save face by calling the process a “collaboration” but they still went 126 YEARS without hiring a black photographer to shoot their cover. And it was Beyoncé, a black woman, who finally inspired them to do so. Anna Wintour can’t front like Beyoncé’s below paragraph isn’t speaking directly to her and the system she has upheld.
“If people in powerful positions continue to hire and cast only people who look like them, sound like them, come from the same neighborhoods they grew up in, they will never have a greater understanding of experiences different from their own. They will hire the same models, curate the same art, cast the same actors over and over again, and we will all lose. The beauty of social media is it’s completely democratic. Everyone has a say. Everyone’s voice counts, and everyone has a chance to paint the world from their own perspective.”
This is the part in the church service when all the aunties yell “PREACH.” Reading Beyoncé’s words is like going to church. They are reiterations of the scripture of Beyoncé that if you are a believer, you know well. Beyoncé is our deity, our King and Queen and she has BEEN reaching back and uplifting black creatives with her insurmountable influence. This is not new. She’s walked the walk of inclusivity and diversity. In her words, she’s doubling down on the teachings she’s been practicing in her art. Coachella, the Louvre, Vogue, Olympiastadion in Berlin – these are the places that Beyoncé has proven are no longer off-limits for people who look like her.
“My mother taught me the importance not just of being seen but of seeing myself. As the mother of two girls, it’s important to me that they see themselves too—in books, films, and on runways. It’s important to me that they see themselves as CEOs, as bosses, and that they know they can write the script for their own lives—that they can speak their minds and they have no ceiling.
Beyoncé has also used her platform to showcase black motherhood and pregnancy in a different light than we’re used to from mainstream pop culture for years. Since she rubbed her belly onstage at the VMAs and let us know that our lord and saviour Blue Ivy Carter was in her womb, Beyoncé has been depicting motherhood and pregnancy as something to be celebrated and revered but also as a real and sometimes difficult journey for women. She was open about her fertility struggles and dealing with miscarriages. Now, Beyoncé has revealed the scary pregnancy complications she faced after the Holy Twins Rumi and Sir were born.
Beyoncé may be rich and powerful but she’s also one of a disproportionate number of black women who suffer during childbirth. Beyoncé’s reveal that she had an emergency C-section, and Serena Williams’ own revelation earlier this year, bring to light the reality that there is no amount of wealth that will protect a black woman during childbirth in America. Now we know the stats. We know that “the risk of pregnancy-related deaths among black women is three to four times higher than among white women.” Jesus, that’s depressing. Beyoncé deliberately shared her health struggles to make a point about her body but I also think it was say to other black woman, “You are not alone.”
“To this day my arms, shoulders, breasts, and thighs are fuller. I have a little mommy pouch, and I’m in no rush to get rid of it. I think it’s real. Whenever I’m ready to get a six-pack, I will go into beast zone and work my ass off until I have it. But right now, my little FUPA and I feel like we are meant to be.
This may be my favourite quote of the whole piece because a) Beyoncé says FUPA and b) she’s saying it in Vogue, a magazine that has historically perpetuated the idea that fuller “arms, shoulders, breasts, and thighs” and FUPAs are not beautiful. She’s also wearing minimal makeup and rocking her natural hair. On the September issue of Vogue. I f-cking love her. Oh, this was also a convenient and very Beyoncé way of shooting down those pregnancy rumours.
There are two headings in the Beyoncé issue that epitomize not only what she’s doing in Vogue, but what Beyoncé and her husband have been doing lately through their work. The headings are “Ancestry” and “Legacy.” The legacy of The Carters is something I focused on when I wrote about their joint album Everything Is Love. Now we have in Beyoncé’s own words what she wants her legacy to be. She reveals that she had to reckon with learning that one of her ancestors was a slave owner who married a slave.
“I pray that I am able to break the generational curses in my family and that my children will have less complicated lives.”
This “curse” in Beyoncé’s heritage is unfortunately distinctly American. This narrative is one that other black Americans have in their ancestries as well. Slavery is that uncomfortable horrific mark on the history of a country that continues to feel its effects. It cannot be ignored, especially when looking towards the future and especially when America seems hell-bent on repeating its mistakes. Beyoncé is hoping for a future where her children will be even a little more free from the devastating effects of slavery. In a regular feature interview, Clover Hope may have been able to ask some follow up questions about this, like what exactly Beyoncé meant by “less complicated” but we know that isn’t how Beyoncé works. She doesn’t explain her work; she shows it. She’s working on a legacy for her children that will be better than it was for their parents.
“They can explore any religion, fall in love with any race, and love who they want to love. I want the same things for my son. I want him to know that he can be strong and brave but that he can also be sensitive and kind. I want my son to have a high emotional IQ where he is free to be caring, truthful, and honest. It’s everything a woman wants in a man, and yet we don’t teach it to our boys.”
This is the part in the church service when the shoes come off and get thrown at the stage. These declarations from Beyoncé in Vogue are essays, not answers. Beyoncé’s feature reads like an editor’s letter instead of a celebrity profile. Try again to tell me she didn’t have “unprecedented control.” F-ck the September Issue, this is The Beyoncé Issue.
For more of The Beyoncé Issue of Vogue, click here.