It was a big deal when Kerry Washington was revealed as the cover girl for Vanity Fair’s August issue. An actress who’s been around for more than a decade and who has finally hit big as the star of the hit ABC political drama Scandal, she is the first Black woman who’s not Beyoncé to pose solo on the front of the mag since 1993.* And since this is the publication whose annual Hollywood issues tout the “next big things” and the A-list elite, the significance of this (along with her Elle cover in June) cannot be overstated.
Washington isn’t the only Black woman in Hollywood who’s currently experiencing a high point in her career. This summer has brought forth more welcome news, with the election of Cheryl Boone Isaacs as the first Black female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Internet star Issa Rae’s deal with HBO to co-write and star in her own comedy series based on themes from her popular Web series, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl.* (This comes after last year’s equally promising news that Rae is developing another sitcom under Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes’ company, though that project has yet to be sold.) Combined with the Oscar talk swirling around the performances of Oprah Winfrey and Octavia Spencer for Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Fruitvale Station, respectively, this seems to be a pretty great year for Black women in film and television. Perhaps, even, this is evidence of “the Obama effect” on Hollywood, as Sharon Waxman wrote for the Wrap a couple of weeks ago?
Not even close. The “Obama effect,” for those new to the term, is a tidy phrase that implies that our Black president has inspired the country to do better in all walks of life, from improving test scores for Black students to moves toward greater diversity and inclusion of nonwhites. Waxman cites as her evidence of Hollywood’s improved stance toward Blacks a meeting where names of the “hottest” current celebrities were bandied about. Washington and Parks and Recreation star Rashida Jones, she with the “piercing blue eyes and mixed race parentage,” were the first names mentioned, she writes proudly.