Beyoncé is getting some less than favorable reviews for a recent shoot she did with French magazine L’Offciel Paris — not because she looks any less stunning than usual, but because she appeared in blackface as part of “paying homage to the African queens through the ages.”
The March issue, a 90th anniversary edition, was paying particular respects to Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti, also named as inspiration for the singer’s upcoming album. (Update: NewsFeed just received a statement from L’Offciel clarifying the Fela Kuti angle: “Beyoncé mentioned the artist Fela Kuti in the interview as one of her musical inspirations. It was later misquoted as the inspiration for the shoot. We would like to clarify that it is not the case.”)
Beyoncé appeared in plenty of outfits without makeup to make her skin look darker, as well as some that did. The magazine said in a statement that the entirety of the shoot was meant to symbolize a return of Beyoncé to “her African roots.” Update: And their later statement had this to say about the controversy: “As for the artistic makeup, the inspiration came from several African rituals during which paint is used on the face. We find the images beautiful and inspiring.” (More on TIME.com: See how a blackface film caused a stir in Germany)
Darkening models is far from new in the fashion world — and arguably doesn’t hearken to the demeaning history of American minstrels (especially when done by non-Americans). But for many critics out there, that legacy is too potent to be trifled with or near, intentionally or otherwise.
“Blackface is not fashion forward or edgy and in my opinion, it is just flat out offensive. Black folks must have a zero tolerance policy for any manifestation of blackface, period,” writes blogger Charring Ball in the Atlanta Post.
“If people allow this blatant cross into the offensive zone there will certainly be more to come,” writes a blogger on the site Young Black America. “Whether the decision to pass off blackface as fashion was made ignorantly or not, there has been enough rumble in the jungle for the industry to be aware of itself.”
Others, in turn, are trying to combat that criticism.
“I really may be shooting myself in the foot here, but I’ll say it anyway: it’s a fashion photoshoot with an artist who already identifies as African-American. What’s the big deal?” writes Terron R. Moore on …ology. “I can completely comprehend the history of Blackface and its uncomfortable role in both history and fashion. But for me, I don’t look at the photos and see race. I look at them and see art. Awful, kinda weird art, yes. But art all the same.”
And the odd blogger is taking the opportunity to berate the singer for other things.
“We’re all so busy debating whether or not it’s racist to think Beyoncé darkening her face is racist that we’ve ignored the fact that the singer and her husband have twice now taken large sums of money from the family of a dictator who is currently killing off protesters in his country,” writes Salon’s Drew Grant, referring to Beyoncé performing in front of Muammar Gaddafi’s son. “Beyoncé doesn’t have to apologize for her L’Officiel shoot. But she should be donating some of that $2 million back to organizations helping people in the Mideast.”
(More on TIME.com: Why do toddlers love “Single Ladies?”)