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Vanity Fair Unveils Diverse Hollywood Cover After Years of Criticism

<p>For the first time in 20 years, half of the actors featured in Vanity Fair's 20th special Hollywood cover are non-white.</p>
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Vanity Fair coverAnnie Leibovitz exclusively for Vanity Fair

For the first time in 20 years, Vanity Fair’s special Hollywood issue features a three-panel foldout cover with six actors of color. That it deserves special mention seems an outrage at this point in history. But the magazine doesn't have a good record of including non-white figures on its covers generally, and those that have appeared in the Hollywood issue usually have been relegated to the folded pages.

This year, not only are half of the featured dozen actors non-white, two are on the front fold — the part visible at the newsstand. Chiwetel Ejiofor, nominated for an Oscar for “12 Years a Slave,” is seated next to Idris Elba, who played Nelson Mandela in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” and is holding first-timer Julia Roberts on his lap. George Clooney completes the quartet.

Showcased on the center page are: Michael B. Jordan, who played a young man killed by Oakland police in the true story “Fruitvale Station,” Oscar nominee and red carpet smash Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”), Naomie Harris, who played Winnie Mandela in the biopic about her late husband, and Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in “42."

The other four actors are: Oscar nominee Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club"), Brie Larson (“Short Term 12”), Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) and Lea Seydoux (“Blue is the Warmest Color”).

News of the cover released by Vanity Fair on Monday was met mostly with praise by critics and Twitter users. Before Ejiofor and Elba, the only people of color who had made the front fold were Chris Rock, Thandie Newton and Djimon Hounsou.

Others noted the positive step was still frustrating.

Vanity Fair declined NBC News’ request for an interview about its landmark selections, but a spokeswoman provided the behind-the-scenes notes from the issue, which hits stands Feb. 7. According to the notes, “it was difficult to narrow the cover cast down to 12,” given the “spectacular year of distinguished films.” The magazine does not describe how it arrived at the dozen actors beyond that.

While it is true that it was a notable year in film — and Vanity Fair's cover particularly reflects the successful run of black filmmakers and actors — the true celebration will come when magazine covers cease to stick out because of the featured diverse faces on them.