In this clip from cycle 13 of America’s Next Top Model, the final six contestants travel to Maui, Hawaii – Tyra’s chosen “exotic” location for the second half of the season. This photo shoot is held in a sugar cane field, and each of the six girls is asked represent the cultures of “two very distinct races” – for example, Botswanan and Polynesian, Tibetan and Egyptian, Mexican and Greek. Tyra and Jay explain that their inspiration for the setting and theme of the shoot is the “hapa” or multiracial heritage of the Hawaiian Islands.
How would you describe Tyra and Jay’s treatment of Hawaiian history and of the races “assigned” to the models? Think about the costume and makeup choices, background music, set design, and the language that Tyra, Jay, and the models use to discuss the various cultures represented. Do you think this is an adequate representation of the cultures in question? Why or why not?
How might you modify the shoot if you were in charge?
Many layers of conflict surround this particular clip. Firstly, Jay’s description of Hawaiian history entirely glosses over decades of colonialism and cultural domination – for example, he simply begins the story with the Hawaiians deciding to grow sugarcane, without any reference to the role of white Americans in forcing native Hawaiians to change their way of life. Furthermore, the use of blackface and other similar techniques is, in nearly any context, still heavy with deeply-rooted associations of racism and stereotyping in the United States and elsewhere. This episode certainly begs the question, as posed by Schema Magazine writer Alden Habcon, “can skin color be worn like any other fashion costume?”