'Invisible Beauty': Model Bethann Hardison tackles racism in fashion industry

Bethann Hardison shares her story in "Invisible Beauty." Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
1 of 5 | Bethann Hardison shares her story in "Invisible Beauty." Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- The documentary Invisible Beauty, in limited theaters Friday, shows how model Bethann Hardison advocated for models of color throughout her career.

She said her methodology was as important as her message.


"You just remind people, 'We're not calling you racist. It's the intent," Hardison told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "The intent may be one thing, but the result is different.'"

Hardison formed Bethann Management in 1984 to represent models. She advocated for fashion shows and photo shoots to include more Black models at a time when the industry resisted inclusion.

The documentary includes a 2007 press conference Hardison held, four years after agencies sent out a notice requesting no Black or ethnic models be sent for consideration. Hardison invited agencies, editors, casting directors and models to the event.

In that press conference, IMG Models President Ivan Bart interrupted Hardison to say agents can't control what the clients ask for. After a contentious exchange, Hardison counters that even agents must take some responsibility for pitching their Black clients.


"I was glad to see that I did handle him so well; that was a very important time," Hardison said of that footage.

Bart gives a new interview in the documentary. Hardison said she reassured him about their 2007 interaction.

"I had to remind him, 'Listen, don't feel bad about that. You just misunderstood the moment, and you were standing up for the truth of what you felt,'" Hardison said. "I was glad that he allowed it because he could have said, 'Oh, please don't use that scene.'"

During Hardison's modeling career in the '70s, she was a contemporary of Iman's among the first Black models on the covers of Allure, Vogue and other magazines. Iman also speaks in the film about looking up to Hardison, but she is modest.

"I wouldn't say I mentored her," Hardison said. "We became friends, and I could say that from time to time, she came to me for advice. In the very beginning, when she first came to America, that was a very tough time for her."

After Bethann Management opened, Hardison represented the likes of Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell, as well as White, Asian and Latinx models.


"I was the owner of an agency that was very diverse," Hardison said.

Bethann Management also represented male models, including the late Brent King and Tyson Beckford.

Beckford gives an interview about the impact Hardison had on his life in Invisible Beauty.

"When you raise people and you see how they grow up, you're so proud," Hardison said of Beckford.

Invisible Beauty director Frederic Tcheng also was struck by how open Beckford was.

"The interview that he gave us was so emotional and deep," Tcheng said. "It definitely felt like a very deep connection that he wanted to talk about."

Invisible Beauty includes an interview with Hardison's son, Kadeem, her only child, whose career is a vital part of her story.

"I was the one who made him believe he should be an actor."

Tcheng said he spoke with Kadeem Hardison for almost as long as he spoke with his mother for the film.

"I got to understand Bethann's life as a woman better when I talked to Kadeem," Tcheng said. "It was really a turning point for me in understanding the story that I was telling."


Invisible Beauty releases to theaters nationwide on Sept. 29.

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