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Image / Agenda / Breaking Stories

Vanity Fair’s newest cover features the late Breonna Taylor, and it’s causing major controversy


by Shayna Sappington
25th Aug 2020
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Breonna Taylor’s portrait on a high-profile magazine has caused controversy among readers, asking if her feature helps or hinders BLM


Vanity Fair recently revealed their September 2020 cover, an illustrated portrait of the late Breonna Taylor and it has prompted a quarrel among Twitter users.

Breonna Taylor was killed by police in her home in Louisville, Kentucky earlier this year. Just after midnight on March 13, Breonna was asleep in her bed when a group of officers came in and shot at her and her boyfriend.

The 26-year-old EMT was shot five times and killed. Her boyfriend, who thought it was a home invasion, exchanged fire with the police but was not seriously injured.

Vanity Fair’s feature also includes an interview with Breonna’s mother, Tamika Palmer, who describes the tragic experience of her daughter’s death and voices the injustice of the situation.

Guest editor Ta-Nehisi Coates, who conducted the interview, wrote that the officers who killed Breonna “claimed to be investigating a drug case”. However, they “found no drugs in Breonna Taylor’s home” and “left their incident report almost totally blank”. 

Five months later and no arrests or charges have been made in connection with Breonna’s murder, despite the Black Lives Matter movement pushing for justice.

The cover

The portrait was painted by Amy Sherald, who is best known for her iconic portrait of Michelle Obama that is currently displayed in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

“For over 20 years, [Sherald] has been putting the narratives of Black families and people to canvas,” said Vanity Fair

“Those are the kinds of people that I am drawn towards,” explained the artist. “I made this portrait for her family. Producing this image keeps Breonna alive forever.”

Sherald said she studied Breonna’s life and took extraordinary care in including small details that were a huge part of her experience, from the gold cross on a chain necklace to the engagement ring she would never get to wear.

While many have commended the artist for her tribute to Breonna and the magazine for bringing increased awareness to Breonna’s murder and telling her story through her family’s perspective, others are not so sure of the inclusion’s intentions.

The controversy

Many have criticised Vanity Fair’s article on Twitter, condemning its commodification of the late, young black woman.

“I don’t really have the words for this. But the way that Breonna Taylor’s murder has been commodified into monetary opportunities. I just. It makes me ill. I hate capitalism so much,” one comment read.

Others called for the arrest of the officers responsible for her death, saying that the media needs to reprioritize.

“Breonna Taylor getting posthumous fashion magazine covers like she’s a stylish accessory is not the same as arresting the police who killed her,” said one Twitter user.

But others supported the coverage, saying it gave a voice to the BLM organisation and stirred a renewed call for action.

One user voiced his confusion. “I’m astonished at the negativity still surrounding this though? Like this is a perfect example of necessary voice amplification, and yet it’s frowned upon.”

“People are condemning the Vanity Fair Breonna Taylor issue, and some people are saying it’s for clout, when her own mother is on there speaking about her life and death. Is that not them using their platform to amplify the cause for justice?” asked another.

People also disagreed with the portrait’s depiction of Breonna, which shows her as a beautiful and powerful woman in a long, blue dress.

Some said its vision humanised her in a way that her killers needed to see and placed the power back in her hands through martyrdom.

“This is the humanity police officers could not see or even imagine could be on the other side of the door they pummeled with bullets,” read a comment.

 

Yet, others said the portrait masked the violence behind her death that called for the arrest of her killers.

Not justice, but a shining tribute

The majority of comments, though, seemed to see Breonna’s cover piece as a small step in the right direction.

“Breonna Taylor’s portrait on Vanity Fair is not justice, but her humanity shines in this Amy Sherald piece,” said one Tweet.

Another wrote that while she was glad the magazine was bringing awareness to the 26-year-old’s murder, she wished that the mainstream media would take an interest in black women before their death.

“I love seeing #BreonnaTaylor highlighted on the cover of magazines. I just hope that America will love Black women just as much while we are living.”

Feature image: Vanity Fair


Read more: Racism in Ireland is on the rise, but are we still listening?

Read more: The problem with racial justice reading lists

Read more: I am heartbroken over the brutal murder of George Floyd in my former home of Minneapolis

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