Jay Manuel’s Satirical Book About America’s Next Top Model May Reignite The Urge To Cancel Tyra Banks
Gay or straight, we all know legendary supermodel, Tyra Banks. Not only was Banks the first African American model on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, she also became a household name globally for her shining personality, stunning looks, and the kooky reality competition series she created in the early 2000s, America’s Next Top Model. Banks also has shown her LGBTQ activism and being an ally to our community as she was one of the first to proudly share the spotlight on her shows with more feminine gays and gender non-conforming persons like Miss Jay Alexander, Jay Manuel, and even Sutan Amrull AKA Raja from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Heck, she even had the first male-to-female transgender model, Isis King, on her series – and then later female to male models. Banks also had creative direction for the sequel to her Disney film, Life Size, where she incorporated a little gay boy for more inclusion.
Despite Banks’ outwardly good deeds for body issues, LGBTQ activism, and blending races in the modeling industry, she’s recently come under fire as new audiences are streaming on Hulu her Top Model series. Couch critics are calling out Banks for having a race-swap photoshoot in one of the episodes and she was dubbed “canceled” by Twitter after her many insensitive remarks toward the aspiring models were showcased. Banks has since apologized, yet the debate should she have said anything is up for grabs.
She is and was one of the top supermodels of the world trying to guide new blood in the industry. It’s not as sunshine and rainbows as Generation Z or Twitter would like it to be. Randomly adding fuel to the “#CancelTyraBanks” party is aforementioned Jay Manuel AKA Mister Jay, Top Model’s silver haired, fiery creative director.
According to Variety, Manuel has written The Wig, The Bitch & The Meltdown, a novel/parody of his experiences on Top Model and its abrasive host. Manuel’s satirical novel has been in the works for the last four years, so he is a little shocked at the timing between Banks’ “cancellation” and the release of his fictionalized story. In his interview with Variety, he states he is no longer friends with Banks and they barely speak – he didn’t even consult her about making a parody version of her in his novel. That already sounds like trouble, no? And yes he’s diving into IT- you know, the infamous “We were all rooting for you, how dare you”, which he cites as the “meltdown” portion of the novel’s title. Manuel seemingly throws Banks under the bus as he discusses production of the show. He states he was a creative director on the series, but few decisions were his. He elaborates that Banks had almost the final and sometimes only say, on anything and everything. Manuel goes on to say why he left the series after eighteen seasons:
It was one-hundred percent my decision to leave the show, as I was ready to move my career in a different direction, but unfortunately at the time, my departure was misreported to the press, and contractually, I could not speak about leaving the show. Now, I can speak about it, so I can be clear that my departure from the show was one of choice. As the show grew and big sponsors came on board, everyone felt the pressure now to build the ratings, so then everyone was adding layers to these shoots and taking it away from realistic fashion challenges, which became increasingly difficult for me because I had to juggle what the sponsor wanted and what production wanted for TV ratings and also create the creative, so it just became very difficult to manage.
Manuel rides the fence on if he believes Banks should be “canceled”. It’s quite telling of his opinion on her.
I do think it’s a little unfair for people to persecute Tyra now, especially because she has already taken heat for her past executive decisions in past years. However, I can’t really defend her either because when ratings were high and things were great, she remained a clear figurehead, because it was her show. Consistently, when s–t hit the fan and people wanted to talk about some of the things that were said on the show, [production would] come forward to claim that all creative decisions were made as the team, and I really wish that were the case, but that just simply is not true.
Banks, in the cancel culture age, has recently been dubbed homophobic as once again, people are scouring through her decades old show. Some are highlighting when Banks asked an openly gay contestant to not flaunt her sexuality. Banks put it as being a proud black woman, but she isn’t walking down red carpets proclaiming to be a proud black woman. Again, a different time and a different place. Previously, that was frowned upon. Now, it’s put on a pedestal as the highlight of an evening gala. Manuel addressed these comments from her, furthering adding to the fire.
I was in the room, and I was sitting right next to her. I remember feeling a little uncomfortable with the statement. I could see Tyra trying to draw the parallel and what she was trying to illustrate, and I was confused by it because we ask these girls to come in the room and the producers remind the girls before they come in, ‘Tell them who you are. You’re not just a pretty face. You have to have a discussion about who you are.’ These girls are coached to speak their truth and tell Tyra who they are, and then Tyra said that, so it seemed a bit unfair. You can see it on that model’s face, like, ‘Wait a minute, I was told to say everything about myself, and now you’re telling me to not say this?’ The culture behind the scenes of [Top Model] was something that shifted over time. It became a culture where you could only speak your mind so much.
Manuel’s fictionalized life story of his experience on Top Model, The Wig, The Bitch & The Meltdown is being released on August 3rd, 2020 – so you know, just in time when the lockdown in Los Angeles is lifted? You can preorder the novel on his website jaymanuel.com or wait until the day it drops! It kind of seems like a must-read at this point.
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.