The use of various digital technology techniques and applications (i.e. graphic design, video editing, photo editing, etc.) in the media industry is advancing at a fast pace.
Not so long ago the Adobe's photo editing application's name, Photoshop, became a verb which indicated a photo that had been altered to try and make it look real. This has since been followed by deepfakes - images and videos where Artificial Intelligence is used to transplant the original person's face with a different person's face, not only that, their voice too.
Also, the past half a decade has also witnessed the advent of social media bots which are not real people but user accounts control by one or more people to push some form of campaigns or propaganda.
Now, it seems we have reached the age where computer generated "creations" are replacing humans. Meet Shudu, a black model that is digitally generated and exists only on the Internet,mostly Instagram. More interestingly, like some "Instagram models", Shudu is also an influencer who has already secured some paid partnerships with various brands and companies.
Digital modelling agency
Shudu, although the first such digitally generated black supermodel, is now not the only one. That is because the digital modelling agency that created her, The Diigitals, now has two other black digitally generated models (in addition to other digitally generated models of other races) that have already appeared in magazines and various brands' and companies' marketing campaigns.
"Here at The Diigitals, we are utilising the rising accessibility of new technologies and taking the first steps into a new frontier of digital exploration. Within this collaborative hub, we will demonstrate the potential of 3D fashion modelling and showcase its applications for innovative brands. Acting as both a showroom to illustrate possibilities and a gallery where a portfolio of diverse digital identities can be appreciated, The Diigitals erases the boundaries between reality and the digital. Leading the charge into this new synthetic landscape is Shudu, the enigmatic and undeniably beautiful muse who's inspiring a new generation of artists. She had the whole world captivated, and now she's here to lead you to a place where fashion visuals have no limitation."
Despite securing much publicity, premium magazine covers and features, as well as marketing campaign deals with notable companies such as Smart Car, Balmain and more, The Diigitals, and specifically Shudu, has attracted some criticism.
The criticism centers mainly on the fact that Cameron James Wilson, a white male, is the founder of The Diigitals and creator of Shudu.
The criticism, is twofold in most cases. Firstly, the fact that Wilson is a white male creating a black supermodel who takes away potential "jobs" away from real black supermodels seems to be a contention for some. The second part, related to the first criticism, is that because Cameron is a white male this is some form of blackface or even blackfishing, a combination of blackface and catfishing.
However, I find both criticisms curious but not necessarily wrong. Curious in that for decades now, people of various races (white males included) have been creating animated or digitally created characters of a race or gender that they are not (think Stan Lee and all the Marvel Studios characters, animations and movies). This also includes black males and females who have created, through their fiction whether in literature, performing arts, drama, or movies, characters that are not black.
This raises the question: when it comes to entertainment and the arts, should only people of a specific race (when I mention race here I am speaking of levels of melanin and not the socio-economic meaning of race) be able to create fiction about their race and not other races?
In this episode of The Tefo Mohapi Show, Gwen Ngwenya (ex-Member of Parliament for the official opposition in South Africa) discusses the issue of identity politics and race based policies extensively.