Another magazine cover equals another case of perfunctory cultural appropriation. AnOther magazine, a biannual fashion and lifestyle publication based in Britain, is under fire for decking actress Michelle Williams in full American Indian regalia for their latest issue.
The Oz the Great and Powerful starlet is in complete media blitz for the movie, so she’s been featured in several magazine spreads. Posing as an American Indian should’ve alarmed her inner hipster immediately or at least raised questions from her management. Your face is painted red. You’re wearing a braided wig and a feather. Nobody was outraged enough to question or contextualize this?
Americans Indians have been brutalized, mistreated and isolated in their own native homestead. Baseball teams donned official logo caps with historically-controlling stereotypical images of the culture for decades. But of course this is appropriate because we’re in a post-racial society where history is nothing more than nostalgic formality.
AnOther is attempting to justify its blatant appropriation of American Indian culture by explaining the spread’s concept. According to the magazine, Williams was “transform[ed] into eight imaginary characters” to align with the issue’s theme, “There’s No Place Like Home,” an ode to “The Wizard of Oz.” However, American Indians are not characters and their homes were stripped from them by colonialists lusting for wealth and power. The history of Indian appropriation deserves documentaries and systemic reform, not a caricature on a magazine cover.
Lexi Nisita, a writer for Refinery 29, also points out the historical implications of “There’s No Place Like Home” cover line:
“[It's] actually very pointed in this instance, given the fact that thousands of Native Americans were forcefully ousted from their homes (not to mention slaughtered and denied full rights of citizenship) when European settlers came to this continent,” she wrote. “The line is, of course, a reference to Ms. Williams’ recent role in Oz The Great And Powerful, but if that’s all they meant, they should have just dressed her up as Dorothy.”
And let’s not forget The Wizard of Oz series author L. Frank Baum’s blatant hatred toward American Indians and support of their “annihilation.”
He wrote in an 1890 editorial for his newspaper, the Saturday Pioneer:
“The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.”
It was written mere weeks before 153 Sioux Indians were killed at Wounded Knee Creek in southwestern South Dakota. Baum also penned several subsequent editorials praising the killing of Sitting Bull, the Hunkpapa Sioux leader and calling for continuous slaughtering of American Indians.
Appropriating Indian culture matters, especially when their customs and rituals have been disregarded as invaluable for centuries. Western civilization has established such disrespect for American Indians that AnOther magazine thinks this cover is justifiable, marketable and acceptable.
Pull the cover. Apologize. And realize how incongruous, offensive and discriminatory photo shoots appropriating other cultures is.