When Pirelli announced that its "Alice and Wonderland"-themed 2018 calendar, shot by Tim Walker, would feature an all-star cast made up entirely of people of color, the internet collectively lost its mind. Though pop culture phenomenons like "Hamilton" have proven that re-telling well-known tales using people of color can result in genre-altering smash hits, it's still a relatively infrequent phenomenon.
On Friday, the star-studded cast behind the 2018 Pirelli calendar shared just how much it meant to them to participate in the creative re-interpretation of Lewis Carroll's beloved fantasy at a press conference in New York.
"Most of the time, people don't realize that people of color come in all colors: light, dark, kinda middle, kinda muddy, bright," said Whoopi Goldberg in a video message shared with the audience. "So to see it all arrayed, [this project] surpassed all that: it became about Alice in Wonderland."
The calendar was cast by Edward Enninful, the newly minted editor-in-chief of British Vogue, but the idea for a re-telling of the Alice story using a non-white cast was Walker's. Walker, who is known for his surreal photography, described the story as a "blueprint of fantasy" for him ever since his childhood. And he wasn't the only person involved in the project for whom the story of Alice has deep resonance — Sean "Diddy" Combs, who posed as an executioner alongside Naomi Campbell, shared that he had quotes from "Wonderland" tattooed on his arms a few years back.
"[Images like this] should've been shown of [black people] a long time ago," Combs said during an onstage conversation with Tim Blanks at the press conference. "It's just beautiful that you're starting to see images like that of us now. I think Pirelli was smart enough to see the future. This is the future: black excellence."
Having Jaha Dukureh (a Gambian women's rights activist) and Thando Hopa (a lawyer) in the calendar underscored that that statement wasn't just about black people who are known for their beauty or entertainment value.
"In the space that I work in and the things that I do, people know me for that girl who went through female genital mutilation, as that girl who was forced to marry at the age of 15," Dukureh said onstage. "I feel like that's all people see. No one actually sees women from my community, the beauty in us. But Tim doing this photo shoot of me? I felt like he saw me. That meant so much."
Whether they were modeling newbies like Dukureh or seasoned pros like Naomi Campbell, Adwoa Aboah and Slick Woods, many participants echoed the sentiment that they valued Walker's ability to make them feel comfortable on set — and the fact that he and Pirelli saw the importance of creating this project for this particular moment in history.
"This is an important time," said RuPaul. "When a butterfly transforms into its beautiful self from a caterpillar, the middle part — the transformation part — is very violent. It's very confusing. That's what we're witnessing on our planet right now. So this conversation, this calendar, is a landmark."