Annie Leibovitz Monkeys Around with LeBron James

Friday, March 28, 2008 at 10:49 AM

The cover of April's edition of Vogue has generated controversy over how NBA star LeBron James is depicted with model Gisele Bundchen. Some critics have alleged that the picture, taken by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, makes him look like King Kong carrying off Fay Wray, a racially loaded simian metaphor. Others don't see it at all, suggesting that James is demonstrating the same intensity he shows on the court and people are trying too hard to be offended. A comparison between the cover and a World War I recruitment poster should settle the argument. Leibovitz was clearly, unmistakeably using one of the world's most famous black men to portray a ferocious gorilla carrying off a white woman.

Here's the poster, "Destroy This Mad Brute," alongside the Vogue cover:

LeBron James and Gisele compared to Destroy This Mad Brute military recruitment poster

Look at the images side by side and you'll see how many different ways they match: The positions of James and Bundchen, the way he holds his mouth, the color of his clothes, the color of her dress, the curls of her hair, the placement of her feet inside his and his arm around her waist, the basketball in the club hand, and his hunched-over posture.

Leibovitz, who has a history of referencing iconic images in her photographs, appropriated the composition from a famous poster that's believed to be an inspiration for the film King Kong. The comparison was brought to light by K.R. Kaufman on the online community Democratic Underground.

Defending the cover, James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "It wasn't a situation we're being rough or looking mean. Just showing a little emotion. We had a few looks and that was the best one we had."

His comments raise the question of whether he knows that Leibovitz was recreating the poster and putting him in the role of a woman-lusting gorilla. James, an internationally hyped basketball star since high school who's now 24, has been as carefully managed and marketed during his career as a new soft drink. He has a net worth exceeding $200 million, a publicly stated goal of earning $1 billion and endorsement deals with Nike, Sprite, Upper Deck, Powerade and Bubblicious bubble gum.

Instead of mapping this argument into the familiar political correctness template, where one side expresses outrage at racial slight and the other derides them as publicity-seeking getalifes, we should be discussing whether America's most renowned celebrity photographer let James know what she was doing to his image.

Leibovitz, who courted controversy in 1991 by depicting an extremely pregnant Demi Moore in the nude on Vanity Fair and has taken many other provocative photos in her storied career, is far too accomplished a photographer to have done this by accident. Her depiction of James could generously be interpreted as a wry commentary on how far we've come in 90 years. Bundchen, unlike the aghast Lady Liberty being carried off by a depraved German invader, is joyous.

I wonder if James, presented with the two images, would be as generous.


Who cares what you think or say. It's a magazine for god's sake. Quuit trying to be the pc police. I don't give a damn if she's with King Kong or Godzilla, it's a damn magazine that wants to sell some issues. Get the piont? Probably not, you seem to have posed as a faux journalist instead of real work.

... you seem to have posed as a faux journalist instead of real work.

Can't argue with that.

Indeed. Why provoke critical thought? I was much happier until I learned that gasoline is a finite resource, now this?!? God. Damn. It.

Twas Beauty that killed the Beast!

Are we still talking about this? Sheesh!! Here's the deal, peoples. With the MSM attempting to give populist Dem candidate Obama his "Dean Scream" moment by proxy through endless replays of the selectively outrageous soundbytes of Reverend Wright's sermons the country has become race concious in a way we haven't seen for a very long while. I realise that Obama's speech the other day welcomed a new national dialogue on the usually verbotten subject but THIS is ridiculous. The article in quetion was one celebrating the apparent perfection of the human body with Gisele and LeBron as two prime example of fitness/ hawtness levels that men and women should aspire to or at least envy. Men tend to favour a wedge shape with washboard abs while women still tend towards the unrealistic wasp-waisted Barbie-esque form which modern fashion still promotes despite health concerns. Lebron is a great athlete and Gisele Bundchen is ...well, Gisele Bundchen fer farks sakes! They both look good in the shot and anybody who wants to see this as being racially demeaning to LeBron James obviously has waaaaay too much time on their hands. Men are celebrated in our society for being big, imposing and aggressive, women are celebrated for being smaller, HAWTTer and doable. Fair? Maybe yes, maybe no. True? Undeniably. Annie Liebowitz obviously wanted to stir a little stink with this pic but due to prevailing over-sensitivities in the zeitgeist vis a vis racial sensitivity she got more than she bargained for. Good fer her. This cover'll prolly sell a shiatload more copies cos of that and isn't that really the point here? Quite frankly whenever Spud looks at that picture I don't really see Lebron James other than as this blur to the left of Gisele Bundchen. I have mentioned that she looks HAWT in that shot haven't I? Cos she does. Such HAWTNESS!! MMMMMmmmm Gisele Bundchen.

Be Well.

Damn straight. And more importantly- let's see the ways that the Kind King image has been utilized to criminalize black men, and humiliate white women, and totally obscure women of any other race. What does that mean? White men are invisible, normal, and saviors. That's a big red warning sign when put on a magazine cover.

It's ridiculous why anyone would have a problem with the magazine cover. Obviously, Lebron is handling his career and his business opportunities very well. Everywhere he goes, people kiss his a** because he's wealthy and successful enough to get the best of everything. He's got his priorities right, and is focusing on the $$$. Any idiot who would rather be poor with no opportunities just to avoid being in a photographic recreation of an old WW1 propaganda shot has questionable judgment.

It's good to see that LeBron won't let a little false pride come between him and a genuine money-making opportunity. Good for him!

If I were with Giselle Bundchen I would be more animal
than LeBron

Very astute article and excellent, clear points -- the artistic allusion is skillfully done, but does the subject have a right to understand the concept and comparison? I don't know. If he isn't told, he is being exploited and possibly humiliated. Then again if he is functioning as a paid model then posing for the picture is his only responsibility and care. If he doesn't like the result, his recourse is to not work for that photographer again. Is he different than another model because he is a sports star and his picture carries more weight than just his looks? I don't think so. I do like the picture, but regret that it's not a closer imitation of the poster, if you know what I mean. That said, I find the poster extremely offensive, and America's political and social intellect hasn't changed much since then, just replaced Germans with Arabs and Muslims.

"Get the piont?"
yes, indeed, piont taken. I don't know where it was taken--probably the piont graveyard.

'you seem to have posed as a faux journalist instead of real work."

I tried posing as real work once, but everyone recognized me for who I am.

As for the magazine's a lot like an inside joke, with the inside joke not being particularly funny. Then again, it's Annie Leibovitz, so what else should we have expected?

The story behind this image and its history is well documented in Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen's Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality. A discussion of the VOGUE cover and related issues is found on their Stereotype & Society website:<>

Big mirror, obvious truth, good article.


No one here has experienced with sophisticated racism !! Nothing to do with Art !
Would be for sure quickly understood if it was related to Jewish steryotypes for example ! But it is not has to do with a black person so it takes a lot of effort to convince people that it was not in good taste! Why ?
Often and for many years racists have been saying that blacks look like monkeys , you all know that !! Thats the only reason the photo is in bad taste , because the man doesnt have an animal look in his natural pose but it was directed to have that look and worst of all is that in photo post production was given enphasis to that agressive look, manipulating with photoshop contrast and color, nothing was an acident, indeed just like the poster that we saw above !
Just bad taste !
Imagine a very skiny model with the same sick look has an holocaust survivor , similar to a typical photo from the holocaust ! People would also react and a lot of people would not like it as well !
So simple ! Blacks , African-American or not are sesitive to the issuefor a very good reason ; ITS CALLED EXPERIENCE WITH ``RACISM``

I really don't see how this is labeled "racist". Only the baggage of the beholder can sustain that view.

If Lebron was a white man of enormous stature, the picture would make the same sense. Applying this double standard to whites and blacks, isn't that what racism actually is?

The 'Destroy this Brute' caption, that's something else. This image is of course based on the 1933 King Kong poster, which is probably the true influence of the photograph.

The "Destroy This Mad Brute" poster is referring to Nazis in WWII, not African-Americans. Sigh. All this hype over nothing...

Obviously Liebovitz likes to court controversy. Look at the recent dustup about the Miley Cyrus photos. She is talented and shrewd. Of course she knew what she was doing. Though I don't suspect LeBron was privy to the back story. Cadenhead makes good, valid points, especially when the poster is viewed next to the photo.