What Dwayne Johnson Being 'People's Sexiest Man Alive Should Really Represent
With all that's happening in the world, the announcement of Dwayne Johnson as People's 2016 Sexiest Man Alive probably feels very inconsequential. And, to be fair, it is, plain and simple. But the fact that People chose Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson shouldn't go ignored. Sure, the title is a silly one that often ends in debate because no ever agrees. And Sexiest Man Alive is clearly nowhere near as important as picking a president. But choosing the pro wrestler turned actor who is of Black Novia Scotian and Samoan heritage, and holds citizenship in the United States and Canada, has added some much needed diversity to a list that is usually very vanilla. We can't go 20 years before choosing another non-white Sexiest Man Alive. That would defeat the purpose of this victory.
Back in 1985, People released its first Sexiest Man Alive issue with Mel Gibson on the cover after, according to a 2007 Washington Post article, someone randomly said, "'Oh my God, he is the sexiest man alive!' And someone said, 'You should use that as a cover line.'" The name stuck as did the randomness of who was chosen. "We have our favorites. We look at who the readers want in the magazine. There's a team of editors in New York that whittle it down over a period of about two months," Julie Jordan, the mag's special correspondent in L.A., told the Washington Post after the paper questioned how Matt Damon could have won."But there's always an obvious choice.... It's the guy of the moment, the guy of the year."
Most of the years, that guy is white. Actually, nearly all of the years. In the 31 years they've been giving out the sexiest honor, they've had one person of color on the cover before now: Denzel Washington in 1996. In between, they've managed to name Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Richard Gere, and Johnny Depp, who was the Sexiest Man Of The Year twice. (Depp earned both his honors within six years of each other.) While People does celebrate other sexy men of different background inside the magazine, these men do not warrant a cover. Even Idris Elba, the epitome of sexy, has only earned a small photo on the cover of the 2014 issue with Chris Hemsworth as the main star.
No one is trying to say any of the men who have been honored don't deserve it. But only picking the "obvious choice" limits who earns the magazine's cover. People generally chooses a movie star — they've only chosen a non-actor three times: John F. Kennedy Jr. (1988), Adam Levine (2013), and David Beckham (2015) — and, as we all know, there is a lack of diversity in movies.
The 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report by UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies found that audiences want more diversity in their entertainment. In fact, the study found that films with casts about 30 percent diverse did best at the worldwide box office. Johnson stars in one of the most diverse film series, Fast and Furious, which saw its last movie Furious 7 pull in over $1.5 billion worldwide. But the study also found that minorities were "underrepresented more than 2-to-1" in lead roles between 2012 and 2013. According to The Hollywood Reporter, representation of minorities onscreen was "less than half as much as their share of the U.S. population." And, in the 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report, minorities in film leads were found to be underrepresented nearly 3-to-1 in 2013 to 2014.
If the deciding factor on who is Sexiest Man Alive is based on who made the biggest film of the year, of course, nine times out of 10, you're going to pick someone who is white. "Hollywood is not progressing at the same rate as America is diversifying," Darnell Hunt, lead author of the second annual report, told The Hollywood Reporter last year, despite the fact that the audience wants to see more inclusion on the big screen.
Knowing all of this is why seeing The Rock grace the latest cover seems like a win. Not only is he the second man of color to land the honor, but he's also the first biracial star to be named Sexiest Man Alive. It's a long time coming, and we can't kid ourselves to think this is some kind of statement. Johnson was the highest paid actor of 2016, so People didn't have to go outside its comfort zone to make this choice.
What it does show though is that the world is changing, and the audience is changing and becoming more inclusive. Magazines like People have to follow suit if they want to represent their readers. They need to rethink what these covers mean to those who rarely see themselves on magazines and the big screen. Actors of different cultures and backgrounds beyond white is the new normal. There should be no going back now.