Black History Month 2019 has been one for the
garbage books, amirite? Amongst our crew here at The Root, we’ve been wondering if we should ask for an exchange or just cancel the remainder of this year’s subscription. Even the always erudite Michael Harriot, who loves spinning gold out of absolute trash asked, “Can we unplug Black History Month and plug it back in?”
And as our editor-in-chief Danielle Belton noted, it was likely always bound to be a letdown after February 2018, which brought us the boundless black excellence of Black Panther—a cinematic and cultural achievement we’re still holding out hope for at this Sunday’s Academy Awards.
But with all the letdowns of this month thus far, there’s one shining light our headline fatigue almost caused us to miss—which would’ve been a damned shame, since it brought together almost as much black girl magic as the Dora Milaje ... with a guiding hand from Spike Lee.
“I grew up around strong black women—my mother, my grandmother—and for this it was important for me to have strong black women on all sides of the camera,” says the Oscar-nominated Lee, who donned one of his many colorful director’s caps for a film masterpiece of a different sort this Black History Month, working with longtime collaborator and fellow 2019 Oscar nominee Ruth E. Carter and acclaimed visual artist and photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier to capture Black Panther’s Angela Bassett in a cover story for W magazine.
The editorial reinterprets the works of many of Lee’s favorite photographers—including James Van Der Zee, Roy DeCarava, Carrie Mae Weems, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Malian photographer Malick Sidibé and Gordon Parks’ ode to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. (Irving Penn’s portrait of Joe Louis gets a nod, as well.)
Award-winning costume designer Carter styled the shoot, using selections from Gucci and Prada (pre-scandals), Bulgari, Moschino, Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Chloe, Roberto Cavalli, and more. The gifted Frazier played cinematographer to director Lee, who told W he sees the photographer as a descendant of the many greats she channeled for the shoot.
“When I really like people’s work, and there’s an opportunity to work with them, I love doing it,” Lee said of Frazier. “Simply put, she’s killing it.”
And of the strong black woman who assumed her rightful place as their leading lady?
“Angela simply embodies that energy in a profound way,” Lee said. “She has this incredible, almost intimidating presence.”
We agree that there are few actresses—or women—as simultaneously formidable, fierce and feminine as Bassett. But for the now-legendary beauty, the shoot was clearly a treat, as well a welcome reunion with old friends, as she quipped on Instagram:
“What an honor to be chosen to be a part of this iconic photo shoot with my incredible brother @officialspikelee ! We had us a good time, didn’t we?”