This is a tough story to write for several reasons. One, I really love Michelle Williams and think she’s lovely and a wonderful actress and all that. Two, I really, honestly don’t believe there was a single racist motivation behind this photoshoot for the British publication AnOther magazine, which sees her dressed in “redface” – you know, Native American garb. Mind you, lack of intention doesn’t negate the fact that something is wrong and/or offensive, which is the point writers over at Jezebel were trying to make when they called out the mag – and Michelle herself – earlier this week, writing, “Just as Blackface is never okay, Redface is never okay. Ever.”
Right, I feel you on that – we can’t pick and choose on what counts as racist and what doesn’t and we should be consistent across the board, though I personally find it really hard to be as offended by this as I would someone in Blackface. Why is that? I have no idea. Perhaps that’s a societal thing, since Native American oppression and treatment has long been kept sorta under wraps in comparison. It’s definitely not right, it’s just what happens.
“The image… is one of a suite of images taken from inside the magazine, presenting Ms Williams in a series of eight different imaginary characters. All the characters in the story were inspired by multiple fashion and cultural references, characters and eras, as well as by our admiration of Ms Williams as one of the most respected and talented actresses of her generation.”
I’m inclined to read this as sincere. It’s also difficult to question whether people think too big of a deal is being made by this because chances are, most of us are white people who don’t have to deal with cultural or racial oppression on a daily basis. Still, I wonder if this wasn’t sensationalised just a little and question where we draw the line between artistic expression and cultural appropriation/racism.