Commentary: Women's Magazines Matter—For More Than Lipstick and Fashion

A historical issue of Essence reminds us of the power of female voices.

On Friday, moviegoers across the country will have a chance to see Selma. The film, which tells the story of the 54-mile voting rights march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, focuses on a lot of men. There’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as King’s advisors, the President’s advisors, Malcolm X, the men of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the many men who came out to organize and march. All too often historical dramas seem to be telling the story of men, because — we are taught in school and in textbooks — men are usually the power players, the ones who made laws and life and movements happen. Selma, however, may showcase a lot of men, but it never falters in showing that what it is telling is the story of a people, a nation and a time. And in large part that may be because the person behind the camera was a woman, director Ava DuVernay.

On the same day that Selma is released, more powerful female voices will stand up. For the first time in its 45-year existence, Essence magazine is forgoing a cover image. No models, no celebrity, just words. And the words? Black Lives Matter. Inside the issue are essays and commentaries from activists, academics and politicians, including Angela Davis, Susan Taylor and New York City’s First Lady Chirlane Mccray

Explaining in her editor’s letter why the magazine decided to do this, Editor-in-Chief Vanessa K. DeLuca wrote how Essence wanted to “tell the story of this tipping point in our history in America. So this February we are focusing our attention on the daring modern-day civil rights movement we are all bearing witness to and making a bold move of our own: a cover blackout.” In addition, it marks the beginning of a new series launched by the magazine called Civil Rights March in which, says DeLuca, “we will be chronicling — and calling out — significant gains, losses and solutions in this evolving movement as we all try to find a constructive path forward.”
More than lipstick and fashion, women's magazines have always covered the serious side of real life. But all too often, when we think of "heavy journalism" in print, we think of men's mags or lifestyle ones such as Vanity Fair. Essence reminds us this month that the publication started 45 years ago with an activist spirit and it hasn't lost it today. Its “Black Lives Matter” issue is a reminder that we don’t have to turn to men or male-helmed creations to learn history and discover activism. And it’s a testament to Essence — and Ava DuVernay — that on this Friday, a group of women remind us that the Black lives that matter are all of ours. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Essence Magazine, February 2015)

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