June is Pride month. And while many of the parades and celebrations have been cancelled due to COVID-19 (and corporations can breathe a sigh of relief because they can stop pretending like they care), Entertainment Weekly’s June issue is dedicated to LGBTQ+ artists that have played a central role in Hollywood “from its very beginnings".
Instead of a photoshoot (which isn’t really possible right now), EW opted instead to have an illustrated cover, reminiscent of magazines from the 20s and 30s. As editor JD Heyman describes it, it’s “the kind of bash we’d all dream of going to.” Because the cover features LGBTQ celebrities from different time periods, UK based illustrator, Jack Hughes, had to stitch them all together in a beautifully drawn tableau.
Taking Hollywood by storm! These LGBTQ storytellers and icons are creating unforgettable work in TV, movies, music, life, and so much more! Take a peek into how they landed a spot on our June cover. https://t.co/XjBzjakcbc Illustration by Jack Hughes for EW pic.twitter.com/gZJWD2BTBz— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) May 13, 2020
The goal was this: “To bring Pride festivities home to an audience an unable to participate in big parades and parties, and to pay homage to Hollywood’s LGBTQ storytellers — past, present, and future.” It’s a cool idea, and one that was done in collaboration with LGTQ artists. The issue itself is also just one part of a month long celebration of Hollywood’s LGBTQ pioneers and will include more stories and even an audio series.
The cover features 18 celebrities including Dan Levy, RuPaul, Ellen, Marlene Dietrich, Freddie Mercury, Lil Nas X, and Janelle Monae. Here’s the full list:
Top row: Janelle MonÃ¡e, Freddie Mercury, Kate McKinnon, Ricky Martin, John Waters, Dan Levy; Middle row: Ellen DeGeneres, Rock Hudson, Laverne Cox, Lily Tomlin, Kristen Stewart, Lil Nas X, George Takei, Ryan Murphy, Cynthia Nixon, Marlene Dietrich; Bottom row: RuPaul, Elton John— Krey (@starskein) May 13, 2020
You might be wondering, why these 18 people? Or where’s _________? And you wouldn’t be alone because the comments that flood EW’s Tweet about the cover are filled with outraged people asking why X celebrity didn’t make the cut. There are some puzzling omissions too. Lady Gaga. Adam Lambert. Billy Porter. Probably a few more early Hollywood stars that my young self can’t remember. Some of the people ON the cover are also ruffling feathers, like Ellen DeGeneres and RuPaul.
An issue dedicated to Pride and LGBTQ celebrities is great. Many of these people have pushed LGBTQ representation at a time when it wasn’t even safe to do so, and they have all changed our perception in society. The issue focuses on celebrities not on the cover, like Hannah Gadsby or Hayley Kiyoko. But selecting a handful of celebrities to be illustrated on the cover was always going to be met with scrutiny regarding who made the cut and who didn’t.
I don’t think it’s fair to write off the whole issue or the cover because of these choices. I’m also not here to tell you who should be on the cover and who shouldn’t. Rather, I’m curious about the work. Illustrator Jack Hughes provides some context:
The list was huge, there were deadline constraints and people had to be cut. I would have loved to illustrate every gay person in Hollywood that ever existed, but ya know, we didn't have all the time in the world x https://t.co/HMiuM88LC1— Jack Hughes (@jackmrhughes) May 13, 2020
Of course, there are constraints like this. Budget. Time. Literal space on the cover. But that’s kind of the problem with the whole idea in the first place. In an issue dedicated to LGBTQ representation, it’s impossible to pick just a handful that have had the biggest contribution. In its ambitious and admirable attempt, EW also sealed its fate. And it’s unfortunately put a dampener on what otherwise could have been an enlightening and fun issue.
I want to know the behind-the-scenes. How long was the original list? Who was cut first? Did they have Gaga on there and cut her, or did they forget? But the more important question was who made these decisions? Because although its supposed to tell the story of LGBTQ artists and their contributions to Hollywood, we must not forget that the curators play a role in that story as well. And who EW chooses to feature is reflective perhaps of the people who are telling the story. Are they representative of our community as well?