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Controversy surrounds Kamala Harris' first Vogue cover

Kamala Harris' Vogue cover photo sparks controversy
Kamala Harris' Vogue cover photo sparks controversy 00:28

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is featured on the cover of the February 2021 issue of Vogue, but controversy over the selected cover photo has overshadowed the magazine's debut. The cover photo, which began circulating on social media late Saturday, shows Harris with her arms crossed wearing a dark suit and her trademark Converse sneakers in front of a pink and green back drop — an ode to Harris' sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

The magazine later released an additional photo, a portrait of Harris wearing a powder blue suit, which a source familiar with the photo shoot told CBS News had been the agreed-upon image that would be featured as the cover.

"Aides to Harris and Vogue had the understanding that the blue suit/gold background would be the cover photo. Without telling Harris' team, Vogue changed it to the pink/green photo which the Vice President-elect's team did not agree to," the source said.

Another source described Harris' team as being "blindsided" when the cover was released.

According to the source, an image showing Harris in her Converse sneakers was originally intended to be used as a smaller photo that would be featured inside the actual Vogue story.

Both photos in question were taken by famed photographer Tyler Mitchell. Mitchell, 26, became the magazine's first African American photographer to shoot a Vogue cover in the magazine's over 125-year history when he photographed singer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter for the September 2018 issue.

A representative for Mitchell did not respond for a request to comment, but he tweeted out the powder blue suit cover.

"The team at Vogue loved the images Tyler Mitchell shot and felt the more informal image captured Vice President-elect Harris's authentic, approachable nature — which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration," a spokesperson for Vogue told CBS News and added, "To respond to the seriousness of this moment in history, and the role she has to play leading our country forward, we're celebrating both images of her as covers digitally."

Additionally a source said both Harris' team and the magazine "collaborated closely on all creative decisions."

For Harris, who made history in November when she became the first Black and South Asian American to be elected Vice President, gracing the cover of Vogue was meant to send a message to young people of color.

"There are not many Black women, let alone Black and South Asian women, that grace the covers of these high-end magazines," a source familiar told CBS News. "[For Harris], it was important for young men and women, people of color, to see that this is possible."

The story, written by Alexis Okeowo, features an interview with Harris and follows Harris in Pennsylvania during one of her final days of campaigning on the Monday before Election Day.

This is not the first time Vogue has come under fire for the way it has photographed people of color. The magazine's editor-in-chief Anna Wintour said admitted as much during the summer of 2020 saying in a company-wide internal memo, "I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators. We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes."

After the cover first appeared online on Saturday night, there were a number of angry reactions, including from some media personalities.

Danielle Garrand contributed to this report.

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