Pirelli Calendar 2018: A Fierce, Striking And Intensely Beautiful All-Black Alice In Wonderland

Black beauty in all its incredible glory

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Last year, Pirelli unveiled what was widely touted as the most iconic and groundbreaking in their rich history of Gregorian time telling. 2017's collection of raw, gritty, black and white images - including of Uma Thurman, Julianne Moore and Robin Wright, shot by Peter Lindbergh - was a lesson in putting serious women back on the map and at the forefront of what is considered beautiful and cool.

So it remained to be seen how Pirelli was going to create the same sort of buzz for their 2018 offering. Well, it's here. And it does not disappoint.

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Pirelli's 2018 calendar is a wonderful, fanciful, striking and ferocious reimagining of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, cast with an all black roster of actors, models and activists.

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Alongside Naomi Campbell and Sean (P Diddy) Combs playing the Royal Beheaders, are models of the moment Duckie Thot and Slick Woods as Alice and the Mad Hatter. But the calendar also features some other amazing women of note, from outside of the fashion and music sphere, such as South African sexual abuse prosecutor Thando Hopa and Gambian FGM campaigner Jaha Dukureh.

To posit that black people have been excluded from the fantasy genre is an eye-roll worthy truism, because black culture has been erased from most popular narratives conceived of by white people.

Just as you'd have to dig deep to unearth stories about the countless African American soldiers who served in World War I, you don't need many digits to count how many black actors were cast in leading roles in Hollywood before the turn of this century. And though clever people will cite a couple of worthy B Movies (Spawn, anyone?), we're still to see a blockbuster black superhero. Bring on Marvel's imminent Black Panther film.

It's actually breathtaking to consider how many areas of popular culture are still almost exclusively white.

So, while seeing black faces in such a mainstream context shouldn't be such a surprise as to make it a talking point, photographer Tim Walker's casting for this year's calendar is a serious statement.

Speaking at the New York press conference, Tim Walker says: 'The initial impetus for this was when I went and took a picture of Roald Dahl's wife Alicia five or six years ago and she said "Did you know that Charlie [of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory] was originally written as a little black boy?" and I thought about that a lot and about how if he had been a black boy and not a white boy, how that would have changed things.'

Djimon Hounsou and RuPaul as the King and Queen of Hearts
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Djimon Hounsou, who plays the King of Hearts opposite RuPaul's Queen of Hearts, explains poignantly what it meant to him to be part of Tim Walker's vision:

'It represented a chance for us to exist as people.

'Historically and scientifically we were the first people [...] Adam and Eve were black. So how is it that after so long and after so many centuries, our history only appears to start from slavery?

'So I was being invited to be part of a fantasy world that kids of all age and all races grow up with, but so many of them hadn't seen a likeness of themselves in this kind of story.'


Naomi Campbell adds:

'It is an amazing time. It's a new time. And I feel it will remain this way, which is good.'

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'I love this take. We've seen Alice in Wonderland done so many different ways but I just thought "we've never seen this version, this is great" and the timing couldn't be better.

'In the 31 years that I have been modelling, this has been one of the most iconic and phenomenal weeks. With British Vogue and now Pirelli and seeing seeing Sean Combs be one of the only black men in the 100 top minds of Forbes, there have been some great moments this year.'


Thando Hopa:

I wanted to give a positive portrayal of something that was different, because I am different from most of the people around me. There was always a form of stereotyping when it came to me looking so different; there are so many reports in the media about the negative implications of having albinism.

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When I was in this calendar though, I was just the Princess of Hearts. Of course, the role of representation does play a part, because I look a particular way and I carry so many people with me, but Tim didn't "Other" me. He didn't "Other" any of us, even though we all walk blackness differently. There was an embracing of difference.'

Thando and Whoopi

Jaha Dukureh:

'I am not a model or a celebrity. I work on issues that people don't normally talk about. I work on FGM as well as child forced marriage. When Tim reached out to me I couldn't believe it because I didn't see why they would reach out to someone like me, but he saw me, he hand picked me.

'He didn't see a victim, he didn't see a survivor, he saw beyond my story. He saw a strong woman, someone that he thought was beautiful and he took pictures of me and to me that was just amazing.'


Duckie Thot as Alice

Duckie Thot:

'This is my dream job!

'My dad left South Sudan in 1994, he fled the war. In Australia, not many people look like me. Not many South Sudanese people moved to Australia before my dad. So I experienced something different. Not necessarily negative, I had a beautiful childhood, but I looked different and I knew I looked different.

'Pirelli has always been my dream job as a model. To have done it with Tim was such an amazing experience.'

The 2018 Pirelli Calendar was shot by Tim Walker, styled by Edward Enniful and the set was designed by Shona Heath.

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