It has been one of the most controversial weeks on Twitter, but again, what’s new? It has barely been a month since Rihanna came out to perform after her 5-year hiatus, and the haters were just as quick to criticize her as they were to embrace her. Rihanna’s PR rollout was one of the most robust PR campaigns an artist has ever had. She planned to perform at the Super Bowl, promote her multimillion-dollar beauty brand on the stage, post a Vogue cover with her son and partner a few days later, and then celebrate her birthday on February 20th. This, of course, was “the mother of all comebacks” to celebrate the return of Riri. Instead, however, she and Jonathan Majors became embroiled in the most heated debate regarding Black masculinity stemming from their February and March magazine covers. Majors’ social media war fell a day after Rihanna’s.
Jonathan Majors had the world on hold when he appeared as the cover star of Ebony Magazine’s February 2023 issue. His photo shoot generated a lot of heated discussion on Twitter. In the cover photo, the 33-year-old actor can be seen shirtless with a pink fur coat draped over his shoulders, paired with blue denim jeans. He is seated on a sofa with a pink background while posing with a pout for the camera. Although the Underground Rail Road actor looks like an undefeated heartthrob, author Boyce Watkins saw it as defining black masculinity as “defeated and weak.” The images prompted Watkins to express concerns about how Hollywood portrays Black men and their masculinity. Fans slammed Boyce’s conception of “masculinity” and “gender.” Many celebrities also reacted to his interpretation.
A number of people who are clued up on anime pointed out that Majors’s outfit was inspired by Donquixote Doflamingo from the anime’ One Piece.’ The stylist for the shoot – Alexander Julian, had also been transparent about where the inspiration for the outfit came from. “He Chewed,” Julian wrote on his Instagram reel, which shows him dressing the actor and the after results of the photoshoot.
The controversy over Majors’ cover grew like wildfire, with celebrities and the general public sharing their opinions on Boyce’s tweet. Editor Alisha Grauso commented, “Your inferiority complex is showing.” David Josef Volodzko wrote, “Pretty sure zero ladies out there look at Jonathan Majors and think defeated and weak, or for that matter, at the Ebony magazine cover and think Hollywood.” Author-speaker Taylor Lianne Chandler commented, “How someone dresses doesn’t make them weak as a man. Sad that you judge others like that.”
Other users online have also shared comments on the subject thought pieces, delving more into Boyce’s suggestion. Some of the comments that stood out are those that dive deep into the references to these images. Which is something almost mandatory in the fashion industry for every cover shoot. A user by the name of Lisa wrote about how the pictures remind her of some of the music industry’s greatest artists.
Rihanna’s British Vogue March 2023 Issue
Jonathan Majors was a follow-up to Rihanna and her boyfriend, ASAP Rocky, who were the first to get trolled on social media. The Rihanna saga started with her calling her son “fine” in an Instagram post. After that, trolls started the photo and caption trend. Some found the descriptor to be more fitting for a ‘grown man’ instead of a nine-month-old, with one fan asking, ‘Who calls a baby fine?’ To which the Umbrella singer, according to US Weekly, replied, “His mother!” RiH added in a follow-up comment: “You just keep your lil cougar paws away from him, and we’re good!”
But this was just the beginning of a deeper issue. As the magazine cover was rolled out three days after her Super Bowl performance, Rihanna faced more backlash. She shared the cover image for the March 2023 issue of British Vogue, in which she’s strolling on a beach, leading her boyfriend A$AP Rocky by the hand as he holds their 9-month-old son while kissing his head. One would have looked at this picture and thought – “This is black excellence; what a beautiful family.”
RiH The Leader
Twitter held a debate on how the cover carries a hidden agenda to destroy Black love and Black families. The apparent issue about this cover is the positioning of the couple and the fact that Rihanna is in the foreground leading and holding Rocky’s hand. Although the featured cover was focused on Rihanna, people forget that Rihanna and her family were the main subjects of the article. Rocky can be looked at as a boyfriend and a supportive father, which may have been the main idea for the cover. Which some may argue is the most important thing for Black love and Black families to flourish.
Imagine if everything else was constant and Rocky was pulling Rihanna as she held the kid. “A boss billionaire Black lady being led by a less-rich, less-famous man” – that would’ve also caused an eyebrow to raise. So Rihanna is in the foreground, as she should be.
Get Your Facts Straight
According to Yahoo News, a married Black woman with children said in their comments that she didn’t like the photo because it played to the “strong Black woman” trope, and the picture “felt like it was taking her out of her feminine energy.” Some folks flexed their apparent osteology degrees to type with sincerity that Rihanna’s face looks “too masculine,” as if she’s no longer the gorgeous Barbadian we’ve all been lusting over for two decades.
This site also reported that you don’t have to be attracted to men in makeup and dresses, but a person’s sartorial choices are not emasculating. Saying it’s quite the opposite — these men are applying their agency to shift the paradigm. A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, Jaden Smith, and the like choosing to wear skirts is last on the list of concerns people should harbor for Black men, especially when these men are rich and likely pulling finer women than them.
So, What Defines A Man?
We have to be cognizant of the fact that time is moving, and with time, everything else evolves. Just like tech, fashion is one of the fastest-evolving departments. Because of the evolution of human liberation, men are now also quite expressive in their style, grooming, and appearance. They are experimenting with clothing and having fun because, again, why not? The clothing we wear doesn’t define who we are or what we’re capable of. It can influence how we feel. When it comes to inner confidence, sometimes the right outfit can work like a suit of armor to increase your inner confidence, giving you that extra boost you need to look the part and feel the part.
According to the Oxford Bibliographies, masculinity, also referenced as manhood, is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with boys and men. Though it is distinct from the definition of the male biological sex, both males and females can exhibit masculine traits. Masculine traits in Western society include strength, courage, independence, leadership, and assertiveness. African American masculinity is also implicated because of aspects of African American masculinity. Such as sexism and homophobia are central components of hegemonic masculinity. Masculinity socialization and formation are culturally laden and policed across multiple contexts.
Responding to the backlash, Ebony Magazine published an article. They expressed disappointment on social media, saying: “If, in 2023, we’re still debating what colors a man should wear in order to be a true man instead of judging him by the content of his character and the validity of his actions that contribute to society, then we have a much greater problem to solve.”
What are your thoughts on both these magazine covers and the Black masculinity controversy?