Last week, after Emma Stone’s interview for ELLE by Jennifer Lawrence came out, I posted about how, more and more, especially in major magazines, celebrities are either interviewing themselves (Beyoncé) or interviewing each other and, as much as I love Beyoncé, there’s something that gets lost in the conversation… when there’s no conversation.
That’s not to say the conversations, when they used to happen, were consistently up to a certain standard. Remember that Vanity Fair profile of Margot Robbie back in 2016? After the backlash, Margot herself called it “really weird”, to have spent time with a journalist and to have the piece come out like that.
But do you throw out the entire process? Or do you make the process better by more thoughtfully engaging celebrities? How? By more thoughtfully considering who might be best suited to write about them. Two years ago, Vanity Fair’s Margot Robbie story was embarrassing. This year, Vanity Fair’s cover story on Lena Waithe, by Jacqueline Woodson, has been one of the very best celebrity essays we’ve had in a long, long time. It honoured the subject without sacrificing curiosity or objectivity. You can’t achieve that when the reporter is the celebrity’s friend. Or the celebrity themselves.
Yesterday The Cut published a new piece on Tessa Thompson by Allison P Davis, another example of thoughtful editorial assignment. Allison P Davis is not Tessa’s friend (although I’m sure she wouldn’t mind!); she’s instead an admirer who is there to do a job – to help us understand who Tessa is, in this moment, and why we care about her. The result is a beautifully written, insightful, and hilarious profile that gives us enough, not too much, and leaves room for more. By design. As Allison writes:
“Tessa” knows she can’t control how people talk about her and how much they talk about her and how they interpret what she says in interviews (even this one). But she can lead them on a journey, and she does so, expertly. She can tweet pictures of goats. Or she can post pictures of her and Monáe that inspire erotic fan fiction. She might not want to answer the questions, but she sure does a good job of prodding us to ask.
There is no “journey” though if the person who’s our proxy on it is someone who’s already heading in the same direction, you know? Jennifer Lawrence is already going where Emma Stone is going. So why would she need to know why she’s going there? What’s her incentive for asking the question? Compare that, then to what Allison P Davis has achieved. The difference is undeniable. And so is the benefit. Both Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence spent time on something that gained them nothing – that’s not showing your work. By contrast, Tessa Thompson and Allison P Davis both showed the sh-t out of their work here.
Yours in gossip,