Black Models Say They Were Turned Away From a Miami Swim Week Casting

Model and painter Ashley Chew coined the hashtag #BlackModelsMatter. Photo: Getty Image

Models of color routinely find themselves marginalized in the fashion industry.

(originally written by Nadra Nittie and published on Racked)

Model Joia Talbott says race was the reason she and other black models were dismissed from a casting call during July’s Miami Swim Week. Talbott says that after arriving at the call, she and roughly 15 other black models were told, “The casting’s closed.”

However, when the women left the line, casting quickly resumed, according to Talbott.

“They told us they didn’t want any more black models, and that afros were a no-no,” the model said in a video posted to Facebook. “They was definitely not feeling my afro at all, so I didn’t stand a chance, right? Wow. We’re ready to go back to LA where we’re appreciated, and we book.”

Racked reached out to both Talbott and Miami Swim Week about the alleged incident and will update the story if they respond.

Kacey Leggett of America’s Next Top Model fame also appeared in the video with Talbott. She said the experience had left her “lost for words.”

“I’m still trying to process what happened, like, honestly,” she said.

Neither model named the casting company that rejected them, but Leggett urged the city of Miami to recognize that “there’s no such thing as too much brown skin.”

Talbott also raised the call on Instagram, where she posted a picture of herself and 10 other black models purportedly turned away from the casting. The models have a wide range of skin tones, hairstyles, and body types. Since they’re such an eclectic group, the allegation that all were deemed unfit for the casting is especially disturbing.

In recent years, black models have made a point of discussing the racial discrimination they face, and for years now Jezebel has kept a tally of how many models of color walk the runway during New York Fashion Week. Activism related to the issue has gained momentum too. Last year, a Black Models Matter protest took place outside the Balenciaga show during Paris Fashion Week. The models targeted Balenciaga due to the fashion brand’s history of using overwhelmingly white talent during shows. In an Instagram post in which he called out Balenciaga for mistreating models, allegedly leaving 150 people in a dark staircase for three hours, casting director James Scully also pointed the finger at the brand Lanvin.

When a casting director tells you they don’t want any Afros or women of color…you STILL show them just how powerful you are. YOU. CANT. BREAK. US!! ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• #naturalhairdaily #luvyourmane #teamnatural #blackgirlsrock #brownskinbeauty #queen #blackqueen #4cnaturalhair #4bhair #melaninpoppin #MelaninSummer #flawless #darkskin #Darkskinwomen #blackgirlsrock #womanism #blackwomen #essence #instafashion #melanin #darkskinblackgirls #blackqueen #thedarkerthebetter #blackwomenbelike #curls #Afro #brownskingirls @blackwomenarepoppin @blackslayingit @darkskin.blackgirls #swimsuit #sunkissed #kinkycurly #swimsuit #swimwear #miamiswimweek

A post shared by JOIA TALBOTT 💋 (@joiajohn) on

“I have heard from several agents, some of whom are black, that they have received mandate from Lanvin that they do not want to be presented with women of color,” he wrote.

Two years earlier, model Ashley Chew coined the slogan “Black Models Matter” after painting those three words on a tote bag. Chew, also a painter, said she was inspired to use the motto after attending a casting for a designer that routinely snubs models of color. Since a street-style photographer took a photo of Chew carrying the politically-infused tote, the slogan went viral, turning into a hashtag that designers like Zac Posen have used. Both Posen and supermodel Iman have carried Chew’s bags.

“People don’t realize it, but the fashion industry is really cutthroat,” Chew told Fashionista in 2016. “People will tell you straight up if they don’t want black models or natural hair. Skin pigmentation doesn’t matter either. Light, medium, or dark — you’re going to be treated as black. I feel this is why ‘Black Models Matter’ created such a buzz, because it’s been an issue for a while. There’s nothing worse than getting turned down for your natural composition.”

Model and painter Ashley Chew coined the hashtag #BlackModelsMatter. Photo: Getty Image

Model Ebonee Davis has raised similar issues. In March, she remarked in a since-deleted Tweet that a casting director asked her to make her natural hair “less springy.” In 2017, Davis gave a TED talk about what’s it’s like to be a black model.

During the talk, she said: “I had white agents, with no knowledge of black hair care, run their fingers through my hair and tell me things like, ‘We already have a girl with your look.’ Translation: All black girls look the same. Or ‘we don’t think there’s room for you on our board.’ Translation: We’re at the capacity for black models we’d like to represent. But the most excruciatingly painful? ‘We just don’t know what to do with you.’”

And, of course, fashion’s diversity problem does not just apply to black models. Chrissy Teigen has called out the fashion industry for marginalizing Asian models. Moreover, Vogue India has faced controversy for first putting Kendall Jenner and, later, Kim Kardashian on the cover, rather than a model of Indian descent. In short, white women can appear on magazines no matter their target market, but models of color must fight for recognition even when being cast for projects supposedly aimed at a broad audience.

While Miami Swim Week is certainly a far cry from New York or Paris fashion weeks, the allegations the black models made about the casting call matter because they show just how systemic racial discrimination is in the industry. If black models can’t get a foot in the door at less prestigious industry events, how are they ever supposed to rise to the top?

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