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Michelle Williams in 'redface' offends American Indians

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com   |   March 14, 2013 at 12:59 PM   |   Comments

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March 14 (UPI) -- With promotion for the release of "Oz: The Great and Powerful" in high gear, the four stars at the center of the film are just about everywhere.

But Michelle Williams is getting some unfriendly attention as well this week over a cover shoot for AnOther Magazine, in which the 32-year-old is dressed in caricaturish American Indian drag, dubbed "redface".

Williams, who plays Glinda in the "Wizard of Oz" prequel, is described as "one of her generation's most sensitive and subtle actresses," but the photos are anything but.

The offending image shows Williams in jeans and plaid, with beads around her neck and feathers tucked into a the braids of a long, black wig.

The magazine told EOnline that each of the eight images were meant to show "different imaginary characters," "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."

"While we dispute the suggestion that the image has a racist subtext in the strongest possible terms, we're mortified to think that anyone would interpret it that way."

But many aren't buying the magazine'es explanation.

Ruth Hopkins, an American Indian who is a columnist and tribal attorney, seems baffled by AnOther's choice and by Williams's decision to go along with it.

"Just as Blackface is never okay, Redface is never okay. Ever," Hopkins writes.

"Donning the customary dress of a profession, like that of a cowboy, or a firefighter, or a police officer, is not comparable to wearing a hackneyed ‘Indian' costume because being Native is not an occupation. American Indians are an entire race of people.

Stop supporting cliché images of American Indians. Racism is racism no matter what era of our history you attempt to portray, or what lens or filter you use.

Adding insult to injury, Michelle's latest project, Oz: The Great and Powerful, is based on the novels of L. Frank Baum. Baum was a white supremacist; a flaming racist who called for the extermination of all American Indians."

And at Refinery29:

"This is shocking, not in the least because Michelle Williams is someone we respect. Of course, this cover probably wasn't her idea, but it's hard to imagine she didn't see what was going on here. Before you jump the gun and say this isn't an imitation of Native American dress and physicality, let us point out a few things. Michelle Williams currently has a blonde pixie cut. So it's not like they just braided her hair coincidentally. They added super-long, thick, black extensions and braided them — and darkened her eyebrows. Then there's the makeup. The photo is in black-and-white, so you can't tell for sure if they've altered her normally fair skin, but there is some definite contouring around the nose and the cheekbones that not only makes her look nearly unrecognizable, but also appears to mimic the stark relief of facial features often seen in early portraits of Native American women. The same mimicry applies her stoic, unsmiling pose — also a typical trope in that particular genre and period of art history."

The other images show Williams evoking a Warholesque Marilyn Monroe, a Kennedy-era co-ed and 1950s widows, among others.

Follow @gabbilevy and @UPI on Twitter.
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