Today's Evil Beet Gossip

Michelle Williams Wore Redface and People Aren’t Too Happy About It

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.

In any case, AnOther made a statement in response to Jezebel’s piece apologising for any offense caused and clarifying their intention for the photoshoot:

“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.

40 CommentsLeave a comment

  • “most of us are white people”….. why do you make the assumption that your audience is homogenously white?

    • Whoops! Mis-read it… “MOST of us are white”… I have to say though this also betrays an assumptions- there’s no reason to assume that most of an audience is white. The western white world may hold a majority of power and wealth, but are actually a minority in terms of population. I think I read somewhere that last year there were far fewer caucasian babies born in America than non-caucasian babies.

      Lastly, as a white person myself, I just don’t think it’s up to me to decide the line between what’s offensive to indigenous peoples and what is justifiable artistic expression.

  • This is your answer!

    “Just as Blackface is never okay, Redface is never okay. Ever.”

    Period. Whether they think they were being “artistic” or not.

  • If you have to ask “is this racist?” the answer is probably yes.

    Is the title always AnOther or is it highlighting racial minorities like as “an Other”?

    • actually the answer is definitely “no”, just by the defintion of racism. The picture states in no way that indians are inferior (or superior) so I really don’t see any problem with it.

      • She has not shown or expressed any negative (or positive) notion of the native american culture. Art is all about what the viewer sees. Maybe some are just not comfortable with seeing this image…thats more on the viewer…not the artist. I myself find it a beautiful compliment. Why not share in the BEAUTY of our multi-cultural society?

      • That’s a pretty narrow definition of racism; racist practices cover a lot more territory than “separate but (un)equal” or segregation. This is more in the territory of appropriation and “speaking for” and the politics of representation. The image is playing on racial stereotypes of Native Americans (braids, feather in the hair, haunted sad face) and posing a white woman in Native American “drag” as suggesting that Native American identity is a character to be played in these narrow old depictions of them rather than a lived, multi-faceted identity. There is an awful lot of scholarship about why mass media stereotypes of ethnic and racial minorities is problematic for not just the members of those communities but for a larger audience because it shapes how non-members view those communities.

  • I love black culture and many others for that matter. As an artist I can’t help but want to dress up as other ethnicities. I also love the look of dread-locks. Do the stereotypical people that wear dread-locks get upset? Is that racist? well i guess if the image i’m portraying offends you, isn’t that something with-in yourself? I’m inspired by other cultures, why does that make me racist? I think this is a good discussion to have, but lets begin thinking like an evolved society. I’m not in any way down playing the tragedies that happen to other cultures, but I just dont think forcing people to feel bad about their appearance choice is going to help. How can we show our love for the many cultures here in America? If I’m black and Native American, does that mean I’m only allowed to dress like these two cultures? HOW IS THAT NOT RACIST?

      • That is a good article. I did not know the native american religion aspect to certain looks. I can completely understand why a native american would find it disturbing. it is a HUGE shame that our children are not educated enough on the many cultures in America. Maybe our Pledge of allegiance wouldnt be said in honor if we raised our kids under a beautiful idea that we live in a country that celebrates freedom of religion. I know “under God” part gets everyone upset, but I kinda miss having pride in my country America. I’m italian, english, irish, and native american… but I’m American and that means something to me. It should to everyone who lives in this country!

        Thank you Paisley for educating me :)

      • sorry correction…I meant “maybe our Pledge of Allegiance WOULD be said in honor if we raised our kids under the beautiful idea that we live in a country that celebrates freedom of religion.

    • “As an artist I can’t help but want to dress up as other ethnicities”
      Artist or not, all people can make choices about their actions independent of their wants if they have knowledge that it offends someone else.

      “How can we show our love for the many cultures here in America?”
      Well, for starters, you could choose to honor true indigenous expressions of indigenous cultures- there are choices here. The choice doesn’t have to be mimicry if you happen to have knowledge that it’s hurtful to another group of people.

    • “If I’m black and Native American, does that mean I’m only allowed to dress like these two cultures? HOW IS THAT NOT RACIST?”

      No one has said that at all. Michelle Williams is neither Native American nor black.

      • Well, if it’s racist if a white person dresses as a native american then it must me rasict too, if a native american dresses as a white person or wears anything that is not rooted in his culture – which is not the case. Double-standards…double-standards everywhere.

      • Mister J: Your logic is impeccable. That’s why this whole “racist” crying is garbage. If you can read people’s minds you MIGHT be able to discern the motives behind the “look”. Until ESP is a common skill, the whiners crying racism are just politically correct children.

  • She looks like Katie Holmes. The pic is disturbing. I don’t like it at all. You’d never guess it was Michelle Williams. I hate it.

  • sooo if i dress like a geisha then its racist?? i think people make a big deal out of things all the time and this is one of those things

  • The lack of cultural awareness in these comments is astounding.

    As a person of colour, I’ve had to explain this bullshit to so many people and it gets tiring. Anyone who doesn’t understand why this is inappropriate, just google cultural appropriation, white priviledge and educate yourself.

    THE IMAGE DOES NOT HAVE TO DEPICT MINORITIES IN A NEGATIVE WAY FOR IT TO BE RACIST. The fact that a bunch of white people decided this is what natives looked like is the problem. The fact that a bunch of white people (very recently, in the larger scale of things) tried to wipe out a whole population of indigenous people and their culture and are NOW trying to tell that population what that culture is through images like this is what’s racist. That’s called appropriation. If you can’t understand the subtle shades of racism that do still exist (and the not so subtle), you need to fucking educate yourself and stop being so goddamn ignorant. Also, like someone said. It’s not up to the dominant white view to tell minorities what should or shouldn’t be racist. Because guess what, judging by the comments on here, most of you don’t have a single fucking clue.

    • Sorry Tor. You need to get a grip and stop whining . Grow up. The world is tough. It’s tougher when you insist other people behave the way you think they should.

      • You’re pretty much telling me that I should just put up with racist treatment rather than saying something.

        I’m just wondering, where is the line between acceptable treatment and non-acceptable treatment? You seem to have a lot of experience in this judging by the tone of your response, so please enlighten me. Which forms of cultural ignorance should be ignored?

        Just an aside, do you even realise how hypocritical your response was? If you’re going to try to call someone out on something it’s usually better if you don’t do the exact thing you’re complaining about.

      • Chuck, I’m having hard time feeling sympathy for the sentiment that the most important right at stake here is the right to play dress-up from a stance of colonial privilege.

      • Tor and Paisley: What is racist about that picture? I guess you both have ESP and are self-entitled to judge the photographer and Ms. Williams? Please. Stop with the whining, put your big girl panties on and realize the VAST MAJORITY of things in life are not racist. Playing the victim in this day and age is ridiculous.

    • Tor, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here; it really shouldn’t be put upon people of color to have to teach caucasian people about privilege and oppression. Learning and challenging oneself can be really uncomfortable, but that’s a good thing.

      Here’s another resource for people if interested (and it took 5 seconds to google it.) [Daily Effects of White Privilege]

    • Ya cause all of us “WHITE PEOPLE” are the same…no contradictions there. Racism can come from MINORITIES too!

  • I just showed this picture to my Native American mother and she’s not offended. I’m not offended. Why does everyone get so excited to be offended? It’s like people enjoy getting mad over nothing. Why are humans like this?