After reading the opening sequence of Michael Bae Jordan’s Vanity Fair cover, which reads like a scene from the OG Fast and the Furious and succeeds in turning me on, I looked up Joe Hagan, the writer of said piece. He’s white. Maybe that shouldn’t matter. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t. But in this world, the one where a profile of Hollywood’s latest leading man deals with his race a great deal and analyzes how his race may have an impact – or not – on his career, I think it does matter. I decided that it mattered after this sentence:
… in rocketing down the Pacific Coast Highway and freaking out the white writer from Vanity Fair, Michael B. Jordan had just turned a theoretical conversation about race into a palpable theater that requires no words at all.
The “palpable theater” was the performance of MBJ speeding around in a sports car with reckless abandon, which seemingly proved to the “white writer from Vanity Fair” that Michael has transcended race? Or that he’s at least at a point in his life and career that he’s not worried about the same things that an average black man in America would worry about if he was driving above the speed limit in Malibu? I’m not exactly sure what the implications are that Joe Hagan thinks require “no words at all” but I understand his overall thesis: Michael B Jordan “wants the ultimate kind of racial equity—to be a movie star, full stop.”
“I’m first and foremost a black man, for sure, but what I’m trying to do, and what I’m trying to represent and build, is universal.”
The writer interprets statements like this by MBJ to mean that his goals are “to be both black and not black.” I don’t think I would put it the same way. When Michael B Jordan says that he is first a black man but also wants to represent universality it’s the same thing Duana and Lainey reiterate on Show Your Work all the time. Specificity is universal. Michael B Jordan isn’t trying to disassociate himself from his blackness; he’s trying to build a career that makes it so his blackness is not the sole focus of his work. He’s trying to create an empire and an image that puts him on par with his white counterparts, who don’t have to worry about the expectations of their race resting on their shoulders every time they are on screen. It’s a small distinction, a choice of words that might not matter to some, but it’s one that MBJ explains in the piece when he questions why Vanity Fair sent a white writer to profile him.
“There is an unspoken language between people of color, black men or whatever, because they just understand what it is, what it feels like, my intentions when I say certain things, they know exactly what I mean, what I’m trying to say. And sometimes when you deal with journalists and writers who are trying to observe from the outside, and what they think you’re trying to say, it doesn’t always connect. It’s not always the same thing.”
For the most part, I do think that Joe Hogan connects what Michael B Jordan is trying to say to what he observes. It’s a comprehensive feature that spans MBJ’s entire career and delves into why he is the way he is, who his parents (my future in-laws) are and how he got to where he is. It’s a refreshing read in the era of “RIP, The Celebrity Profile”. This is a classic celebrity profile, complete with quotes from his past co-stars and friends. One of my favourite comments comes from Lena Waithe, recounting a moment when she and all of our young Black Hollywood faves were hanging out after the Met Gala. Vanity Fair shouts out this photo. Remember this photo? It made me cry.
GOOD MORNING pic.twitter.com/7IYkaPCA0h— Ashley Weatherford (@sincerelyash) May 8, 2018
Here’s how VF and Lena Waithe remember the photo:
… the picture felt like a gate-crashing and a cultural watershed. Afterward, the group converged at the Up&Down club, in downtown Manhattan, and marveled at their moment. Jordan “looked at me and he was like, ‘We got to keep going. We have to keep going,’” recounts Lena Waithe, the creator of Showtime’s The Chi. “I said, ‘I don’t got no plans of stopping.’”
No plans of stopping. Neither does Michael Bae Jordan. And he’s got help in the form of Phillip Sun, his agent, who also reps Lena Waithe, Donald Glover, Idris Elba, John Boyega, and Letitia Wright. Sun has made a point to work with non-white talent and is integral in creating MBJ’s brand strategy and choosing which projects he works on. Aside from casually dropping that he and Donald Glover have “some things brewing” (!!!!), MBJ outlines that his plans include demanding his worth—he “made only $2 million” on Black Panther— and building his production company.
“This is the defining moment in a lot of different areas for me that’s gonna set up my next 5 to 10. That’s why I’m so locked in right now, because if it was ever a time to get distracted or, like, drop the ball, this is not it.”
The defining moment he is referring to is Creed II. He wants it to be an international success in an effort to dispel the antiquated idea that films with black leads can’t sell overseas. He cites Nicholas Cage as an example of someone who can sell internationally and if that’s the example he used, should we be worried about Creed II? I’m not worried. First of all, I’ve watched the trailer more times than I’m going to admit to in writing and second, MBJ is right. Creed II is going to sell and that will be a victory in and of itself because it will solidify Michael B Jordan as a bona fide box office star. Of the other male stars in his age group, who else is doing this? Chris Hemsworth, I guess. Zac Efron? Nope. Michael B Jordan IS this generation’s leading man and its definitive heartthrob. As much as I don’t want to share him, I’m so EXCITED for him. Those two titles – heartthrob and leading man – aren’t intrinsically tied to his race.
If this Vanity Fair piece were given to a black writer, they may have delved deeper into the criticism MBJ has gotten from the black community about who he may or may not be dating (it’s me, everyone can calm down) and asked for specifics on the advice he received from Will Smith but maybe not. Maybe those things don’t matter as much as building up Michael Bae Jordan as high as the actors whose careers he hopes to emulate: the Matt Damons, the Brad Pitts and the Leonardo DiCaprios – the stars who have probably never had to think of the race of the writer who shows up to interview them.
Finally, CAN WE TALK ABOUT THESE PHOTOS? They are going to be a problem for me for the foreseeable future. This cover image has f-cked up my entire life. I’m willing to risk it all for Michael Bae Jordan in a dripping wet white tee. We are not worthy.
Let MBJ’s abs and his words in Vanity Fair f-ck up your day too.