This was the cover of Los Angeles Times’ magazine The Envelope, published on Dec. 21, 2017.
Notice anything … painfully obvious?
All actresses gracing the cover — Margot Robbie, Diane Kruger, Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Jessica Chastain, and Kate Winslet — are white.
The cover’s message — highlighting “a change in the way many stories are told” — came across as tone deaf and exclusionary at a time when the conversation around racial diversity on screen has taken center stage.
Many people noticed. “I don’t understand how … a cover like this could be approved with this headline,” one Twitter user said.
@Envelope I don’t understand how after all the conversations on #OscarSoWhite, White Feminism, etc a cover like this could be approved with this headline. And did any of these A-List actresses demand that actresses of color and other diverse demos be included? https://t.co/kBE0lLXS3u
— Skylar Ezell (@Skylar_Writer) December 22, 2017
It was Chastain in particular, though, who took the most heat for appearing on the cover.
In recent years, Chastain has become a vocal advocate for change in Hollywood, publicly addressing how racism and misogyny affect her industry in consequential ways. Her production company, Freckle Films, is primarily staffed by women, according to The Mary Sue, and focuses on female-driven projects. So her involvement in The Envelope cover was especially noteworthy (and disappointing) to many fans, given her commitment to changing the industry from the inside out.
“Honestly, [Chastain], as an outspoken voice for equality, how do you pose for a photo like this and not feel absolutely mortified by the blatant exclusion?” asked WNYC editor Rebecca Carroll.
To her credit, Chastain responded to the cover, calling it “sad” and demanding better:
Its a sad look that there’s no WOC in this pic of us promoting our female lead films. The industry needs to become more inclusive in its storytelling. What were your favorite WOC lead films this year? I LOVED @salmahayek in #BeatriceAtDinner https://t.co/tzoijwy88q
— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) December 24, 2017
And many fans defended the actress, suggesting that she was being disproportionately criticized.
But Chastain also got some big-name support from another famous woman in Hollywood: Jada Pinkett Smith.
At the Sundance Film Festival, Pinkett Smith took part in a panel about the importance of diverse storytelling on Jan. 22, 2018. While she didn’t directly reference the fallout from The Envelope cover, Pinkett Smith made a point to praise Chastain for her work behind the scenes empowering women of all colors.
Pinkett Smith referenced a new film project starring Chastain and the Oscar-winning Octavia Spencer, who is black, in order to illustrate an important point.
“Jessica said to Octavia, ‘I got you. I’m going to Universal, and we’re going to make a favored nations deal,’” she began. “Jessica stood up for Octavia, and I want you to know that because they stood together, they got three times what they were asking for as a unit.”
The “favored nations deal” Pinkett Smith referenced is a clause in some entertainment contracts that guarantees no other performer sharing the screen with an artist can be working under better terms. By helping ensure Spencer got a deal in that vein, Chastain helped level the playing field.
Representation is important, Pinkett Smith explained, but it should be accompanied by real, substantial work toward equality — work that often happens behind the scenes.
And when it comes to doing the work, according to Pinkett Smith, Chastain is a team player. She went on:
“It’s nice to go out and march, we can do that. It’s nice to wear black at the Golden Globes. It’s nice to do that. But what are we doing behind closed doors? And I got to give our sister Jessica Chastain her props. Because she stood up for Octavia and put it down. And that’s how we all need to do it for each other.”