Black face models land Tyra Banks in trouble

Nicole on America's Next Top Model

Bi-racial models on Banks’s America’s Next Top Model are accused of perpetuating blatant stereotypes

BY Tim Edwards LAST UPDATED AT 12:43 ON Fri 30 Oct 2009

Tyra Banks, the creator and presenter of America's Next Top Model, has provoked outrage after an episode of the reality TV show aired in which models black up and don the national dress of various ethnicities while posing for photographs in a Hawaiian sugarcane plantation.

Despite Banks's status as a much-loved African-American media star, the incident calls into question the morally superior position taken by many Americans in relation to other recent examples of white people engaging in 'black-face' in Australia and France.

Two weeks ago a Paris Vogue photoshoot depicted the white Dutch model Lara Stone in black face, prompting US fashion website Jezebel to brand the magazine's editor "culturally insensitive".

Only a week before that, a group of white men calling themselves the Jackson Jive blacked up and performed Can You Feel It? for an Australian television show. Harry Connick Jr, a guest judge, refused to mark the skit, saying that if it had appeared on American television, the series would have been cancelled.

The America's Next Top Model incident occurred on Wednesday. Standing in a sugarcane field, presenter Tyra Banks explained how immigrants had come from all over the world to work on the plantation: "What happens when men and women from different places come together? Babies! Lots of babies that are from different cultures. A mix. Hapa. Hapa means half in Hawaiian."

The wannabe models were then assigned two races, whose, behaviour, colour and ethnic dress they had to assume.

Nicole, a white contestant, was congratulated by Banks and her fellow judge catwalk coach J. Alexander for her interpretation of the mixed race 'Malagasy-Japanese' (pictured above). "I always wondered what I'd look like as a different race," she remarked. "I feel like I really looked exotic."

Condemnation was swift. The Huffington Post distilled the issue: "So basically, Tyra, blatant stereotypes are OK in the fashion world?"

However, the show has its defenders. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Jethro Nededog said: "Tyra and the producers sought to celebrate the beauty of mixed-race people, not to stir up the obvious racial prejudices that some of my media colleagues were so quick to invoke this week." · 

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