What were they thinking over at Sports Illustrated when they were going to feature girls in swimsuits on the seven continents? Cover girl Kate Upton got penguins in her Antarctica shot, but models Anne V. and Emily DiDonato got different company, an old Chinese man on a raft and an African warrior in the desert respectively. The buzz coming from these photographs (both only appear online and not in the print issue) is not what SI was expecting; some people find both shots racially insensitive and offensive.
My thought is this in looking at this first photo: Why not just have the girl sitting on the raft in the river? Was it the photographer’s intention to show this man as culturally representative of China? I think not, but that’s the way it comes across. China is a huge country with cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong that rival New York and Chicago with their impressive skylines. Why not choose a river there with a sparkling cityscape in the background? A similar picture with model Jessica Gomes apparently has not rubbed people the wrong way, mostly because she is quoted as saying she is of “Chinese heritage” and found the old Chinese fellow and bird “extremely cool and friendly.”
To be fair, there are other photographs in the “China” section that show mountains, temples, waterfalls, and bamboo forests. These pictures do not include locals and why should they? Besides, I think most guys who buy this issue (I get SI as a subscription, by the way) are more interested in what’s in the foreground than in the background anyway.
In a picture taken in Seville, Spain, model Julie Henderson is depicted in a bullfighting stadium standing next to a toreador in full regalia flapping the red cape, a sword pointed to the ground between them. Here again a “local” adds basically nothing to the shot but seems less offensive, except perhaps to those who find bullfighting to be a barbaric sport. In the same section model Ariel Meredith can be seen with flamenco dancers behind her in the Plaza de Espana. Again, this seems more cultural in theme, although this connection appears infinitely more civilized than an old man wearing a conical straw hat on a raft, which is the whole point the critics are making.