The photographer who “smoothed” actress Lupita Nyong’o’s hair for the cover of Grazia magazine has apologized, saying he made a “incredibly monumental mistake.”
Photographer An Le, who was born in Saigon, Vietnam but now lives and runs a studio in New York City, added that changing Nyong’o’s hair was an “unbelievably damaging and hurtful act.”
Nyong’o expressed her chagrin over the retouching via an Instagram collage last week. She showed Grazia’s November cover shot next to the original and unedited images.
“As I have made clear so often in the past with every fiber of my being, I embrace my natural heritage and despite having grown up thinking light skin and straight, silky hair were the standards of beauty, I now know that my dark skin and kinky, coily hair are beautiful too,” the actress wrote in the caption. “Being featured on the cover of a magazine fulfills me as it is an opportunity to show other dark, kinky-haired people, and particularly our children, that they are beautiful just the way they are. I am disappointed that @graziauk invited me to be on their cover and then edited out and smoothed my hair to fit their notion of what beautiful hair looks like. Had I been consulted, I would have explained that I cannot support or condone the omission of what is my native heritage with the intention that they appreciate that there is still a very long way to go to combat the unconscious prejudice against black women’s complexion, hair style and texture. #dtmh.”
In his apology Le said, “I’ve had some time to reflect on my part in the incident involving Grazia and Ms Nyong’o. I realize now what an incredibly monumental mistake I have made and I would like to take this time to apologize to Ms Nyong’o and everyone else that I did offend.
“Though it was not my intention to hurt anyone, I can see now that altering the image of her hair was an unbelievably damaging and hurtful act.
“As an immigrant myself, it is my duty to be an advocate for the representation of diversity of beauty in this industry. I will demonstrate this in my work even more going forward.
“My altering of her image was not born out of any hate but instead out of my own ignorance and insensitivity to the constant slighting of women of color throughout the different media platforms.
“There is no excuse for my actions. I deeply regret the pain I’ve caused Ms Nyong’o, a woman I’ve admired for quite some time now. Again, I would like to say I’m deeply sorry to everyone I did offend.
“I want to thank Lupita for addressing this important issue.”
In a separate statement, Grazia magazine said, “Grazia magazine would like to make it clear that at no point did they make any editorial request to the photographer for Lupita Nyong’o’s hair to be altered on this week’s cover, nor did we alter it ourselves. But we apologise unreservedly for not upholding the highest of editorial standards in ensuring that that we were aware of all alterations that had been made.”