So by now, I’m sure that you’ve seen or heard about the CGI (computer-generated imagery) model, Shudu, that has been turning heads and making us question our perceptions of reality because she’s so lifelike. I’ve seen this story resurface a few times since it has come out, so it’s about time that I give my take on it. Get ready y'all! This is going to be an intense one.
London photographer and CGI artist Cameron-James Wilson created Shudu, her likeness inspired by models like Duckie Thot, as his contribution to the moment happening for dark-skinned models. “She represents a lot of the real models of today. There’s a big kind of movement with dark skin models, so she represents them and is inspired by them," he shared with Harper’s Bazaar. The conversation that has been sweeping social media has surrounded the critique that Wilson found a way to exploit and profit off of black women rather than hiring and paying an actual black model in contrast to the arguments that created Shudu simply as a means to shed light on and further promote the beauty of black women.
When I first saw this story, a part of me didn’t like it. There’s validity in the criticisms made about the profiting off of but not paying black women. But then, I also had to realize that something beautiful was created out of all this, and respect had to be given in that regard. I don’t think there’s just one way you can feel about this, as there are a few moving parts at work here: that Shudu was created at all, the motive behind Wilson creating her, the fact that Wilson is a CGI artist and chose to be inspired by black women, the real black models who still don’t get the shine they deserve past these “movements,” the fact that dark skin/ black women aren’t a trend yet are still fetishized. You can’t just dismiss Shudu’s creation because a white man created her because that takes away from her influence and likeness and then that of the black woman, giving the fact that Wilson is white a bit too much power.
Image Credit: Instagram: @shudu.gram
First things first, Shudu is STUNNING! Her likeness clearly encompasses the beauty of the black women she is inspired by. Her beauty is reminiscent of the women we see everyday, of the black models that we want to see more of. No one can argue with the fact that Shudu’s imagery is breathtaking and beautiful. I’m happy that she was created because it speaks to the influence, beauty and power of black women. The problem comes in when Wilson stated that he created Shudu because there was currently a movement happening with dark skin models, and THAT is where my issue lies. There has definitely been a resurgence of people of color within the mainstream fashion industry. More and more brands, designers, etc. are becoming “inspired” by black woman for a plethora of reasons. However, one thing that black women are not is a trend. We are not a costume that you can just take off at the end of the day. We are not to be fetishized and reduced down to just our parts. We are not going to be disrespected, shamed and belittled for our features and style and sit back and watch silently while the fashion industry and media calls the very same things a trend on a white woman or the more palatable equivalent. Most importantly, we cannot continue to act as if black women aren’t the most underrepresented and underpaid when it comes to the fashion industry, especially when talking about black models. Catwalks, campaigns, catalogs and other forms of imagery are consistently pale and lacking models of color. When there are models of color on the runway, black models are used sparingly and as the token black on the runway. It’s a shame! So much credit is given to the fashion industry each year around fashion week hyping up the fact that the runways are more diverse than ever. It’s not that groundbreaking. It’s the industry’s job to cater to and represent all of the consumers. Kudos to those that are consistently inclusive, but we can’t keep applauding the mediocrity. Back to the topic at hand, I can definitely understand the argument that this is a way to profit off of the likeness of black women without actually having to pay an actual black model. However, there is a lot more that goes into this conversation, making the lines a bit blurry on what it is that we can be mad about. Let’s not forget that Wilson is a CGI artist. That is his form of creative expression. Are we upset that he chose the outlet of CGI technology instead of photography? Because he operates in both of those spaces, we can’t get upset when he chooses one outlet over the other. That’s like saying that animators and cartoonists are taking jobs away from black actors and actresses when creating and drawing up black characters. They are operating well within their lane of expertise, and it’s just not the same thing. Let’s also not forget that the representation of blackness in this GCI/ tech space is also limited. Are we upset that he was inspired by black women and used his platform and art to showcase blackness in this way or simply that he is white and doing this? We can talk about the fetishization of black women because it’s important to have that conversation and dissect the foundational issues that come with that, however, you have to be able to accurately apply those kinds of accusations to the situation. We don’t know if that was Wilson’s underlying intention, and based on what he stated in regards to why he created Shudu, it was because the beauty of black women inspired him. We have to take that and run with it because that’s all we have to go by. You can’t place those kinds of accusations onto Wilson because we simply don’t have that supporting information. Now, in no way am I caping for “wypipo” in saying this because we all know they tend to be problematic more often than not. I’m making the point that you cannot place blame where it doesn’t apply; we can take Wilson out of that conversation because there’s no incriminating proof that he sought out to profit off of blackness and keep black models out of a job. Until that happens, I can’t put all of that on Wilson. All we can do is hold people accountable once they step into territories like this. Since Wilson appreciates the beauty of black women so much, how can he use his platform outside of Shudu to benefit actual black models? How can he continue to shed light on black models and women to make this more than just a "movement?" That’s a conversation we can have and hold Wilson accountable for.
So when you really unpack everything about this, it boils down to an issue of race. Unfortunately, that’s what most things center around. That’s why these topics are so sensitive and controversial, and we have to be vigilant when bringing these discussions to the table.
At the end of it all, however, I have to say that this situation feels so familiar: we beg for inclusion and diverse offerings from mainstream sources, but when we get them, we feel that need to question the motives and intentions and the whys and what fors and the methodology behind it all and the overall package it’s presented in. I see this most frequently within the beauty industry, case and point after Fenty Beauty was released. Yes, Fenty raised the bar and made major beauty brands see that women of color have major buying power and are worth producing quality product for. Yes, brands like Marc Jacobs and Kylie Cosmetics were shook and tried to pander to women of color after the fact, and yes, that makes you question their authenticity. They came late to the party, and their only motive is making money; it was a smart business move to them to hop on the bandwagon and capitalize off of that steam. Brands will always stick with what they feel is working for them until they see something else working for another brand. It’s not a surprise anymore. It’s unfortunate because of course a brand should want to cater to everyone, but they don’t want to go out on that ledge until they see it working for someone else. It’s how business works sadly. However, in the end, you got exactly what you wanted (the inclusive, diverse product offering), and you’re still upset. So at the end of the day, people just can’t be pleased. Someone tries, and it’s still taken with a grain of salt.
I think we battle with the facts of the matter that we (women of color, more specifically black women) don’t want to be treated like an afterthought or the new hot thing when we’ve been poppin’ and worthy of the attention all along vs. the bottom line that we never really know anyone’s real motive. What makes the difference is authenticity. You can tell when people aren’t being authentic and just pandering for your attention. The biggest motivator, especially in business, is always going to be money. As we see, brands will do pretty much anything to get more of it.
So back to Wilson and Shudu, we don’t know his real motive behind creating Shudu, beyond the reason he actually gave. People will tell you anything to keep themselves in a positive light. That‘s not to say that there’s no validity to what he said; we just don’t know and are forced to take what he says to be true. Whether you believe what he’s saying or not is up to you, but the beauty of a black woman was showcased in this space. That alone should be appreciated! If we don’t like who delivered it, we have to do more to put more people of color in spaces where more content can be created by us. That’s honestly what I want to see more of—people who look like me creating things for us, by us!
What did you all think of this situation? Sound off in the comments, and let’s have the conversation!
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