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Digital Instagram model Shudu began trending across Twitter earlier this month after she featured on Fenty Beauty’s Instagram wearing one of the line’s shades. Then on Tuesday, after Affinity Magazine published a video highlighting her creation, Shudu took the internet by storm.
Created by London photogramer Cameron-James Wilson, who developed her using 3D modeling software, Shudu is an opportunity to represent a “movement with dark skin models” in fashion, he told Harper’s Bazaar. In an industry that traditionally values white and lighter-skinned models, Shudu has a dark complexion, like many real women of color who never see themselves represented.
Is this model real or fake? Meet Shudu — a digital model. pic.twitter.com/e78E3lK93m— Affinity Magazine (@TheAffinityMag) February 27, 2018
That doesn’t necessarily mean Shudu is beloved by everyone, however. Many women of color have criticized Wilson, pointing out that by using Shudu, he isn’t actually divesting any money into Black models with darker skin complexions.
Just...hire... black models..... perhaps https://t.co/CEe34dMF0h— whomst’veatlantavegas (@Namastaywoke) February 27, 2018
"He created her to represent the beauty of models today." You know who could represent them better? Them.— Robby Hesselbrock (@rdhesselbrock) February 27, 2018
Guess they don’t want to pay one pic.twitter.com/kfhMJlmm7h— richard allen (@geechee41) February 28, 2018
"wilson created shudu to represent the models of today and their beauty" then just use the fucking models then ???? idgi https://t.co/V1DXM2WPDB— cerys saw bp (@SOFTDODlE) February 28, 2018
“Models like Duckie Thot are a really big inspiration for the look of Shudu”— Jon Alexander (@chillseason) February 28, 2018
“He noticed there was a big movement with dark skin models”
Bruh, this is so trash on so many levels. https://t.co/6QTeirGtsG
but in reality it does take away jobs from black models that are fighting to get exposure in the industry look Anok Yai who was the 1st black opener in 10 years for Prada and A$ap Rocky being he first black man to be the face of Dior we need more stories like that from brands— lord jon (@jonsznz) February 28, 2018
There’s also the fact that Shudu is just a 3D model, which means she doesn’t have the same autonomy to reject photoshoot settings, modeling poses, and the depiction of her physical appearance in the same way that models of color do in the real world. Shudu is basically a virtual plaything for Wilson and any brand that promotes her. Plus, many of her Instagram poses feature her nude or semi-nude, sparking a larger conversation on the objectification of Black women’s bodies by a white man.
As much as I appreciate art I detest the fact that the minute dark skin is finally glamourized by the mainstream media a white man finds a way to commericalize & capitalize off it. Black skin is not a trend. Black skin is not a toy. Black women even more not so. #Shudu #FreeShudu pic.twitter.com/pu79IGcU1s— Sonia Pratt (@adrianette_) February 28, 2018
So Shudu was created by a white man to profit off of black women without actually having to pay them??? HELLA NERVE. Technology came a long way however It’s plenty of dark skinned models who look like her but they get overlooked. Book them instead of cloning them. https://t.co/oiB7vA8l7U— Emma Frost 3/15 (@Drebae_) February 28, 2018
I'm sad that Shudu is a computer generated model made by a white man who basically is feeding off dark skin women.— Casper (@_k1smet) February 28, 2018
This whole Shudu thing is pissing me off. Whether Cameron-whoever the fuck wanted to start a dialogue about employing black models or not, a white man "making" black women and men leaves a bad taste in the mouth.— Hayley J. Armstrong (@FroPaz444) February 28, 2018
Still, some think Shudu is a net positive for Black women. They see Wilson’s model as fundamentally good-intentioned and as an opportunity to raise visibility both for women of color with darker skin tones in modeling, as well as Black women around the world whose bodies are underrepresented in mass media.
He is in fact shedding light on the fact that darkskin models should be celebrated and embrace their own beauty! He is actually a photographer and has worked with many real life shudu s! But the misconception that he’s ‘taking away’ anything is wrong! He is my brother— Heléna Sadeghi (@HelenaSadeghi) February 28, 2018
He isn’t taking models’ jobs away nor is he profiting from Shudu. He’s literally just like any other artist who draws, paints, or animates people... pic.twitter.com/MUB1nNpE6v— Denise Anne (@denisetaquito) February 28, 2018
As long as you don’t pay the knockoff, we can vibe with it/her. Love it. Love you Shudu. https://t.co/CWo7L4FQnc— MODELintheWILD (@modelinthewild) February 28, 2018
That’s like saying we shouldn’t make animated movies because it’s taking work away from real actors. I think it’s dope that this guy decided to make the model black and he did a damn good job. Do y’all want equal representation or nah? like which one is it— AB (@looveparanoia) February 28, 2018
Who you should actually be mad at, is anyone who commissions this artist's work in place of an actual black model!— Kristine (@KristineEff) February 28, 2018
Shudu may be trending right now, but she’s part of a much bigger conversation on digital blackface, in which white internet users take GIFs and photos of Black people and repurpose them for memes and reaction images. In some cases, companies like Snapchat have blatantly participated in digital blackface, sparking concerns that tech companies are prone to objectifying Black bodies and likely to let racism slide on their platforms.
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.