Gisele Bündchen and LeBron James Vogue Cover Controversy

March 28th, 2008 // 25 Comments

I think I’ve already seen quite a few sites covering the topic of Vogue’s most recent cover, featuring LeBron James and model Gisele Bündchen. And, it’s started a bit of a controversy, with some claiming that the depiction of LeBron and Giselle is racist by showing James in a King Kong-like pose, embracing a white woman à la Fay Wray.

Personally, I think it’s much ado about nothing, with Giselle looking more like a perfectly content piece of arm candy on the arm of a professional athlete (which she is in real life) than an actual “damsel in distress.” And don’t most athletes like to portray themselves as menacing forces of nature when they’re on the court/field/pitch/wherever it is they’re competing? More than anything, his stance reminds me of the Maori Haka dance that the New Zealand rugby team does before their matches to intimidate the opposing team. And as for Gisele, she’s just smiling and looking pretty, which is pretty much her job description.

But I’d much rather hear what you guys have to say about it, so comment away!

In any case, Vogue sure is enjoying a hell of a lot free publicity.


8 more photos of Gisele Bunchen launching the Vogue Eyewear Play Everyday Campaign at the Atzaro Hotel in Ibiza, Spain after the jump.

(Hint – Right-click on the image thumbnails with your mouse to open them in a new tab or window.)


By Lisa Timmons

  1. mel

    i think you made some really good points. It is not offensive to me either. Just because a black guy wants to pose like king kong doesn’t mean it’s racist–it’s like you said, he wants to seem powerful. He’s not mocking dark skinned people. And it’s not offensive to see her in the damsel position, because she doesn’t look like she’s in distress…the arm candy is a little more offensive than anything else.

  2. Frida

    Well, I hadn’t heard about this controversy before but I think it’s absolute bullshit. It seems people want to see things that simply don’t exist.

  3. Alek

    Point is that it’s part of a trend. The African-American athlete tends to get his “angry photo” picked for publication; the white athlete tends to get the “handsome” pick.

    I think it’s partly pushing a stupid black=savage subsconsciously racist theme, partly wanting to avoid showing the black guy interacting romantically with a white model instead.

    I think they should have been forced to view that first-season episode of ANTM when the models jumped around an athlete in creative not cliched ways.

  4. stolidog

    Amazing really….the people who are crying racism by saying it depicts LeBron James as king Kong are, themselves, saying the most racist thing imagineable. The most despicable form of racism is to compare african americans to apes, which nobody is doing except the very people theoretically condemning racism. go figure.

  5. kikdeedee

    I think it is more offensive that VOGUE has a ‘Shape’ issue. When did Vogue start hiring healthy size models to grace their pages?

  6. BK

    LeBron can’t help what he looks like. God, why do people have to go looking for shit?

  7. LCC

    We are a nation of whiners waiting for the slightest reason to express our moral outrage.

  8. emma

    Seriously? I would not have noticed the “controversy” if you hadn’t pointed it out. LeBron looks fierce, and Gisele is all happy and pretty and enjoying the moment with him. Besides, wouldn’t someone like LeBron and Gisele get to approve a cover? To Alek’s point, a romantic LeBron/ Gisele cover would have been HOT. However, since this is Vogue, I like that it’s not the same tired old cover.

  9. emma

    Seriously? I would not have noticed the “controversy” if you hadn’t pointed it out. LeBron looks fierce, and Gisele is all happy and pretty and enjoying the moment with him. Besides, wouldn’t someone like LeBron and Gisele get to approve a cover? To Alek’s point, a romantic LeBron/ Gisele cover would have been HOT. However, since this is Vogue, I like that it’s not the same tired old cover.

  10. Lety

    I don’t know what people are getting mad about. They see racism where there is none.

  11. btchyspice

    here’s my thing: not only in annie leibovitz a killer photographer, but lebron james is also a pretty intelligent business person (for his young years). i’m gonna give both of these professionals the benefit of the doubt when i say i *think* annie probably showed bron-bron the proofs. and if he had no objection to the photo, why the hell should anyway else? for bronny’s sake, he’s the one in the pic!

    as said earlier, people will find anything to cry racism over. i’m over it.

  12. Why couldn’t those shouting racism even rejoice that their race (black) is portrayed as fierce and POWERFUL more than the soft handsome white boys.

    I mean there is always something to rejoice at even in the worst portrayal. Why can’t we just be positive.

    To me, the pictures are okay and it is a beautiful one.

  13. Loob

    Well actually, he is grabbing her and roaring. It does look sort of animal-like, and sort of aggressive and violent. I can see how that would offend people.
    If they didn’t want him to seem violent and angry, he could have been holding her with a manly frown (snerk) or a suave raised-eyebrow or something. He would have still looked handsome, and not scary.

  14. AlliBaba1234

    I don’t get “King Kong.” I get “goofing around at a photo shoot.”

  15. AlliBaba1234

    P.S.- Apparently there are no sizes after 16. Haha! Like you could even get a size above 10 or 12 in the most fashionable boutiques. Is Vogue now recommending Old Navy and JCPenny??

  16. gail

    I had no idea about the K.K. reference until I read this article.

  17. c

    You really need to put up the original 1917 recruitment poster beside the Vogue cover for comparison–only THEN can the discomfort begin!

  18. Aeol

    fat people don’t deserve pretty clothes.

    kidding! sort of.

  19. john

    Race baiting for fun and profit. Go Vogue! Oh yeah, and if it wasn’t offensive, people wouldn’t post on board after board, “OH NO IT WASN’T OFFENSIVE! GRRRR!!!! “It’s like Shakespeare said, “Methinks he doth protest too much…”

  20. Phil Ghee

    SOCIAL ENGINEERING VIA POPULAR WEBSITES AND SEARCH ENGINES. The calender says 2008 but the mentality says 1808.

    PEOPLE,people,people HOW LONG WILL YOU BE PLAYED and have your thought processes manipulated and corralled like cattle ?

    No Vogue’s cover is not racist but the media and websites that are having a good ole boy time, flashing the cover (supposedly alarmed ) are. Putting the idea in your head over and over again, that it is: in no less racist (yet more subtle) than the Klan’s latest propaganda flyer.


    Not everyone is a sucker for subliminal programing folks and don’t you become one either, sir. You want a good example of everyday racism that gets ignored because it is oh so real and supposedly enlighten folks just don’t want to admit to their inbred knee jerk activism: read my article below. And as for Blacks taking responsibility for their own misgivings, I don’t pull any punches either, read:the attachments if you dare.


    For the past few years I have been trying to warn, or in the least, get America to reflect on the new trend of socially unacceptable behavior which is cursing our shores and reeks right out of the very root of racism; racial actions that are done subliminally and that are never addressed. Sadly to say, not only have my hue and cry of this cruel and insensitive epidemic of rude behavior not be taken up by the forces which may affect change (media, academia and, both religious and humanist secular concerns); the epidemic continues to grow unabated and has taken on such unnecessary and preposterous levels that the ethnos rising up against ethnos spoken of by Jesus in the bible, will most certainly not escape these shores.

    Let us pray that episodes like the New Orleans debacle has become will of those crucial sparks that will ignite inner conscious searches and address institutional racism. However,my major focus and mission is to swat at those little sparks, the ones that surface each and every day in the life of a person of color (or should I say certain colors or degrees of hue thereof). As we should have learned from all the recent California brush fires, little sparks can be responsible for setting some major brush fires.

    Along with a reprint of an article I wrote several years ago I will attempt to get the audience to take up observation of what’s happening out there in society in general and inspire them to reflect on their own actions as it relates to such material that I will present.

    Case in Point:

    Currently I live in a city in which the black population is 3% of the whole. The next few sentences is by no means an attempt to shift focus or blame on another racial group, it is merely presented as a fact for the particular city where I live.

    I would have not put forth such a claim had I been writing this from Atlanta or Baltimore ( a city which I just spent two years in) or any other city where blacks (especially if there is a established underclass population present) represent a significant proportion of the population and do contribute to a major degree a the crime therein. Now returning to the city which I currently live, allow me to offer these facts:

    . The overwhelming majority of car thefts in this city are perpetrated by those of Hispanic origin
    . The overwhelming majority (if not all) the chop shops are operated by those of Hispanic origin
    . Because of the close proximity of the Mexican border, the major of the cars stolen for resale end up in Mexican territory, commandeered by those of Hispanic origin.

    YET, IT ONLY TAKES THE GLIMPSE OF A BLACK FACE AND THERE GOES THE SYMPHONY OF CAR ALARMS AND HORNS (P.S Folks most of us own vehicles too! We do know that you can lock the door without notifying the whole neighborhood).

    RARELY have I seen such musical tribute being played on behalf of a Hispanic, odd isn’t't considering the aforementioned FACTS. In fact the only time I have seen it done was if the Hispanic happened to be so threatening in dress and manner or if he happened to be of such of dark complexion that he is mistaken for black, in such a case the reluctant vehicle owner might have to do the rude thing.

    There is a game that I like to play. I like to sit out at an outdoor cafe or any other outdoors venue where arriving cars are being parked. I pick a spot where I am pretty much concealed from the arrives view. Funny! Unless another one of my dark brethren or aforementioned dark Hispanic passes by, there is no symphony. Imagine that, people get out of their cars without making mechanical noises. The symphony hall is quiet. Later I will change places and sit where I am visible. And guess what, “Whenever you are near, I hear a symphony”.
    Earlier I spoke of this as a game but that is not entirely true. This is a personal assault on my dignity on my perceived worth as a human being, if ever there was one. How this new century behavior supposedly and more justified, genteel or warranted than the blatant verbal insults which whites had the permission to inflict on blacks all the the last century and right up until the civil rights movement?

    Behavior such as this is unacceptable and every black who has to experience these insults to his presence, day in and day out is registering it; even if on a subconscious level.
    And one day the levees of tolerance and dismissal will undoubtedly break?

    This wake up call presented by Phillip Ghee
    What Is Racism?


    Who will speak for us (those who truly think progressively)?

    I can’t believe how many people, including intellectuals, who when attempting to define and lend solutions to the problem of race-relations, continuously miss the mark when attempting to document racism. It is either some overt racist act that will ignite their passion or the dissatisfying groans echoing from the daily struggle of inner-city life, to which their focus is drawn.

    The subtle forms of racism are everywhere. You don’t need studies and degrees to figure it out, all you need to do is use your common sense and open your eyes, leave your book learned castles of dogma and experience common day life. Perhaps they should follow me around for a day with a hidden camera and I will show them things, subtle things, intricate things which, if viewed in proper context, should make their consciousness growl.
    I am an African American male, although in my forties, I have been blessed by heredity to look far younger than my actual age. I am a conservative dresser and, in my oval framed glasses, collegian and studious in appearance. I have lived the bulk of my existence in the midst of white dominated society and culture. I have lived in predominately white neighborhoods and as a result have had more Caucasian friends and acquaintances than those who are black or of other minorities. I articulate will and am shy of conducting my business nor my social outings in a predominate white culture. I live on the trendier side of town in a major city, Los Angeles.

    I have never been a victim of the racial profiling of any Police Department. I do not feel that I have ever been turned down a job, promotion or lodgings simply on the bases of my race. In short I should be the prime example of a black who, like a Larry Elder tries to rationalize, or suppresses their anger caused by the type of racial profiling which I am going to discuss. I feel sorry for a person like Mr. Elders who chooses to rationalize his way to a harmonious acceptance of the substandard characterization of his being, based solely on his color. I for one, will neither suppress nor rationalize my reaction to treatment generating such anger and, I am calling on blacks, especially those who have maintained a limited acceptance in the white community to do the same.

    I am a victim, yes a true victim because the crime perpetrated against me I have not elicited nor do I have any control or means of averting the crime. I am a victim of racial profiling. No, not of the controversial type of profiling which is so prominent in our modern News lexicon. I am, and millions of others like me, victim of racial profiling although subtle, is much more sinister in its implications. Every time I leave my house, every time I shop, every time I pass a white women on the street, every time a white person gets out of their car and notes my presence I fall victim to this type of profiling.

    Sadly, in the case of black Americans our lives are viewed by a different set parameters than any other group (and I will not attempt to justify it as being understandable). For instance, I am a hospital employee. Although, a technician I am required to wear the same white lab coat and expected to present myself in the same manner as the physicians. A visitor can only ascertain that I am not a physician by close inspection: a review of my identification badge. It never ceases to amaze me, how at first contact, a visitor or potential patient will employ all those same subliminal safeguards I call The Flinch: (jacket drawn with great urgency to cover their bosom, skirt adjusted down) , if white female is in the seated position. Upon sighting my presence causes hands drawn close to ( a reflex motion to shield the body), wallet pocket patted, purse clutched, car alarm checked thrice or even four times, children and even dogs pulled close to safety. And this is everyday. It’s even worse than the old adage spoken by Malcolm X, What do you call a black man with a Ph.D. ? — answer — a nigg__. In fact I have seen pit bulls reacted to with far less fear and anxiety than a black, walking down the street, just trying to go about his business. How does one rationalize this behavior?

    I believe situations like those aforementioned, are never put into check, No one ever challenges the dangers of these subtle yet damaging forms of racism and, as a consequence this behavior by whites towards blacks is growing at an unprecedented and alarming rate. Whites are beginning to accept this reaction as normal social behavior. Hey it is okay to get off my car walk ten feet then upon seeing a black man, work my car alarm like crazy. White women are beginning to accept as normal that when approaching a black man you must cover up completely or these animals might see your white flesh and attack you. It is OK for the shop attendant to ignore offering to black man the same courtesy questions such as : how are you today? Although these questions are extended to everyone else in line. I can’t even remember the last time I was able to present a credit card without showing ID.

    Are any of the intellectuals and social scientist ask the question what are we doing to the dignity of people who are constantly the recipient of such demeaning behavior? An adult overweight person can challengingly express the permanent damages done to them by being teased as a kid about their weight and, we are all able to sympathize and say how terrible that is. Yet imagine living a life where the things I have spoken about are happening non-stop and everyday to that young black male. What is he suppose to do when we talk about the greatness and freedom of this country, when we talk about the melting pot of cultures? When we through out taunts such as United We Stand?
    The humiliation I am trying to express will still seem a small matter to most. I guess I will never be able to express the magnitude of dehumanization one feels from such aforementioned behavior. Perhaps it can not be conveyed unless someone has walked in the proverbial shoes ( each and everyday).

    We are a diverse nation and being naive about another plight is not a crime although refusing to relinquish naiveness may be.

    The Roots of the problem

    Racial Subliminal Programing leads to Racial Social Engineering: This is the root of the problem. This is an area which most of us fail to identify or, we ignore when we are confronting the subject of racism. This is subtle form of racism. It generates no hype nor you are able to attach sensational footage to it thus making it a poor choice for News at 10 or an Investigative Report. These factors are the most crucial ingredients in forming the platform of ignorance which racism will undoubtedly grow from. You can not pass it to your child unless someone is constantly feeding it to you.

    The media is the primary feeding grounds for subliminal messages. Anyone with half a brain knows that subjects like black crime is viewed much differently than white crime. Everything from word choice to camera time is used to either deflect or enforce the subliminal image desired. The term: a senseless crime always denotes it has been committed by a minority whereas terms like tragic hints that it was committed by a white and thus deflecting the emphasis from the criminal (the being) to the crime (the act) . If there is a car chase that involves a minority, especially a black, you better believe that the cameras are going to remain on the scene to get that close up of the suspect being handcuffed and led away. When it is a white carjacker, after the chase ends the break away shot is that from the helicopter from a considerable distance and the close up is shown on the late night newscast, if at all. We all know this, this is not the important issue, the important yet unasked question is to publicly ask the media, the editors, the news directors, the question why are things reported in this way?

    A Los Angeles Councilman once accused the Los Angeles Times of using the term “South Central” to refer to crimes that was being committed in areas way outside the boundaries of his South Central district. Surprisingly, the LA Times did conduct a review of its coverage of crime stories. They found that the Councilman’s accusations were indeed true. They issued him an apology and promised to take greater steps in accuracy. The Councilman accepted the apology and the matter was closed. What the Councilman failed to do was to go one step further and ask the crucial question. Why do you editors believe the reporting was being done in this fashion? We will never properly address the issue of racism until questions like these, that tell us about ourselves and our programming, are asked and answered.

    You see, by showing blacks as criminals, and by painting them as even more predatory than a white criminal engaged in similar crimes, you reinforce in the minds of mainstream American that these are people to be feared and not trusted.

    By citing code words that have come to be associated with blacks, like South Central, you can still implant that subliminal racist messages without coming out and saying what you really believe. Another example: If a black is shot and there is no way of indicating he or she was a black, you use a code phrase like “It was not thought to have been gang related”
    Because of the constant bombardment of subliminal messages and racially motivated programing, this condition of racism can exist within the individual unbeknown to the individual himself. A person can be full of racist ideals and never set about or commit a serious racially motivated act, yet the mind set is still there. He or she still believes they are superior.And he or she will more than likely institute all those talked about safeguards even in situations not deserving of such behavior.

    Prejudice, Bigotry, Discrimination, Hate Crimes, etc. These are the outward _expression of the aforementioned mind set. It is where our attention is most often directed towards. For example, people tend to focus on the incidents of racism rather than the programming which allowed the individual to commit a racist act in the first place.

    Posted by:

  21. Stephanie

    What makes me angry is the whole concept that someone intentionally chose “a menacing photo” of James. If it were my publication, I would have chose that photo also……… why? It’s damn sexy!!! I would love to see any of the many beautiful male althletes gracing the covers of magazines in EXACTLY the same pose!! Women love tough men, and men love tough athletes. This photo should be pleasing to all eyes!! Please someone explain to me how the picture (clearly with the caption, “Secrets of the Best Bodies, Top Models & Star Athletes” beneath it) conveys anything other than a bad ass basketball player and a beautiful woman? Quite frankly, the real racist here is the person who looked at the photo and compared James to a fictional monstrous primate!

  22. B.SophiaLoren

    I agree with Alek. This is Vogue, dammit! Can he get a suit or something, please!? Geez! We’ve seen him in his ball shorts more than a million times.
    And there is a still in King Kong, where Naomi Watts is wearing a green dress, much like this one, and King Kong is holding her. Defend all you want, but I’d bet good money that someone @ Vogue saw that shot & gasped & thought- “This is it!”
    I mixed, so I was like- come on, it’s not racist, blah blah- until I saw that still shot. One can not deny the similarities.
    Gisele (interracial cover) is not a problem for me by ANY means- I’m a product of interracial love! Besides, this is ’08, and if I can love whoever I want. But the is Vogue, and Vogue doesn’t do warm-ups or ugly, so this was unsettling for me.

  23. Bowie

    I don’t see the photo as racist, I do see it as a throwback to the old King Kong posters but that’s not a bad thing. It is a bad thing however that it is 2008 and Vogue has only had something like 3 African-American people on the cover and LeBron James is the only African-American male to ever grace the cover of Vogue…

  24. Chelsea

    It’s part of a long history of the way men and women are protrayed in advertising. As a woman I find it particularly offensive because Gisele is standing there happily next to an aggressive looking man, which references abuse, and well, the fact that it’s a black man plays in to stereotypes. Not very creative. It leaves me very disappointed in Annie.

  25. Nicole

    I agree with the majority’s opinion on this one. I mean, it IS Vogue, for goodness sakes. They can be as artistic and stylistic as they see fit, and have been in the past. But now that a black man is posing with a white woman, we must automatically consider that the cover, reminiscent of King Kong, must be racist. If you ask me, this is hardly the controversy Vogue should be handling right now. If anything, people should lash out at the emaciated models portrayed in these magazines. Going back to Lebron and Gisele, sure Gisele Bunchen’s random ‘skippy’ pose is kind of awkward but in a throwback way, it adds to the theme of ‘beauty and the beast’. When I first saw the cover I assumed that the photographer’s aim was to portray (as the accompanying byline agrees) Lebron James as a basketball powerhouse ‘star athlete’ whose behemoth abilities are beyond match, and, a softer side, Gisele Bunchen’s sought-after body adored not for her athletic abilities, but rather her ability to hold awkward poses for long periods of time, sometimes while scantily-clad. If you ask me, the only way this Vogue cover is a controversial topic is because we’re all taught to perceive things in a controversial light. Thanks to years of the media making big deals about nothing, like the yellow/sensationalist journalists in the twenties, we are taught to look at an ad and perceive it as much more than it is. It all boils down to a matter of stereotypes.

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