"America's Next Top Model's" Creative Director Jay Manuel Said He Was Left "Horrified" And "So Uncomfortable" By The Controversial Race Swap Photoshoot That Has Resurfaced Online

"There are so many layers to this, and all of them are insane."

It is pretty common knowledge that America's Next Top Model is one reality series that hasn't aged well, especially the earlier seasons.

The judges of America's Next Top Model

With Tyra Banks the face of the show, ANTM aired 24 seasons between 2003 and 2018 — and also spawned spin-offs in other countries, including Britain and Australia.

Closeup of Tyra Banks

In recent years, many Top Model moments have been called out for how problematic they are after being revisited from a more modern perspective.

For example, there was the time in Cycle 4 when aspiring model Kahlen had to pose in a grave shortly after finding out that her friend had died.

Kahlen laying inside a coffin

This was mirrored in Cycle 8 when Jael had to take part in a corpse photoshoot the week after her friend died of an overdose.

"My friend died of an overdose."

And the harsh way that Tyra and various other judges — namely Janice Dickinson — spoke to the contestants throughout the series has also come under scrutiny.

Closeup of Janice Dickinson

In Cycle 6, Tyra famously ridiculed Danielle for not wanting to close the gap in her teeth. Other contestants were body-shamed for gaining weight, told to tone down their queerness, and sent home from the competition for not being comfortable posing in the nude.

"This is all people see."

Ironically, another contestant was slut-shamed when it was revealed that they'd posed for Playboy in the past.

Contestant Jeana posing during a photoshoot

But one of ANTM's most controversial moments of all was probably when the show made the hopefuls model as different ethnicities by darkening their skin with makeup.

Closeup of a model's face being painted shades darker

This actually happened twice during the show's 15-year run; in 2005 and then again in 2009.

A model having her face painted

The controversial 2005 photoshoot recently resurfaced on TikTok, and viewers were shocked to see just how outrageous the whole thing was.

A model's face painted shades darker than her skin tone

In the clip, creative director Jay Manuel can be seen telling the contestants what to expect from the "Got Milk" photoshoot that they were about to take part in. He then said: "Now there's a twist, we're actually going to switch your ethnicities."

Closeup of Jay Manuel

"The challenge here really is taking on the persona of that other ethnicity while in the photography and owning it," he added.

Closeup of the models

Jay then reeled off the ethnicities that the contestants had been assigned, which ranged from Indian to "Eskimo."

Screenshot from "ANTM"

One girl was given the ethnicity of "Icelandic Scandinavian," another "Swedish milkmaid," and one more was told: "We're making you into a traditional African woman, with a head wrap and everything."

"Noelle 'african'"

In addition to the ethnicity-switch and milk mustache, the photoshoot also included a 3-year-old child that the models had to work with.

A white model in an afro holding a child

Suffice to say, people flocked to the comment section to share their views on the show after watching the clip on TikTok, with many admitting that they didn't remember it being so offensive when they first watched it more than 15 years ago.

TikTok @Realitytvforuu / Via tiktok.com

Others just shared their utter disbelief at the concept, with one writing: "If people told me about this episode before watching it, I wouldn’t believe it."

"If people told me about this episode before watching it, I wouldn’t believe it."

Another wrote: "No way this was real." One more added: "There are so many layers to this, and all of them are insane."

"No way this was real."
"There are so many layers to this, and all of them are insane."

"My jaw dropped so hard it’s no longer attached to my body😐" someone else commented. Another asked: "I still can’t believe they did this like whooooo approved it???"

"My jaw dropped so hard it’s no longer attached to my body"
"I still can’t believe they did this like whooooo approved it???"

"It just kept getting worse," one more wrote. While another user summarized: "That show was a ball of red flags."

"It just kept getting worse"
"That show was a ball of red flags."

Many also called out the descriptions that were used in the show, including the word "Eskimo," and Jay's reference to the traditional African head wrap.

"Duuuude... Inuit"

In 2020, Jay actually admitted that he was "horrified" by the shoot at the time, and reiterated that the concept for the shoot was out of his control.

Closeup of Jay Manuel

Speaking to Variety, the star explained: "Many times when you’re working in an environment like that, you have to listen to your executive producers, and ultimately, the two voices at the top were Ken [Mok] and Tyra. There were sometimes several objections by other producers and myself about layers that were added to creative, and we were just told to execute."

Ken Mok and Tyra Banks

"I was so, so, so uncomfortable with this," Jay said of the race-swap photoshoot. "I was never scripted for my intros or anything, and I didn’t know how I was going to be able to set this up — I was so afraid that I would wear this because I was the creative director, but it was not my idea."

Screenshot from "ANTM"

"That swapped race was a layer added in. It was supposed to be a different concept. I remember that very, very clearly," Jay added. "I was basically told that I had to execute the creative, and it made me very uncomfortable."

Closeup of Jay Manuel

"The original concept was to always do something with the girl holding the baby doll, and we knew we were going to do the Got Milk part. The layer of swapping races was something that I remember being added in a preproduction meeting," he explained.

Closeup of Tyra and Jay

"Initially, I didn’t speak up," Jay confessed. "I was slightly horrified. I’m biracial, but I grew up identifying as Black. My parents grew up under apartheid in South Africa. So, to me, with understanding our own country’s history around race, I thought, 'We’re really doing this?'"

Closeup of Jay Manuel

"There were just certain people working on the show in a senior position, where several producers, not just myself, became very scared to speak up. I actually brought my concern first to another co-executive producer because I was too scared to even take it up higher to an executive producer," he shared.

Screenshot from "ANTM"

Tyra ended up apologizing for that photoshoot as well as other controversial moments from the show that same year, after she was called out on social media.

Closeup of Tyra Banks

Responding to a viral tweet that included resurfaced clips from ANTM, Tyra tweeted: "Been seeing the posts about the insensitivity of some past ANTM moments, and I agree with you. Looking back, those were some really off choices. Appreciate your honest feedback and am sending so much love and virtual hugs. ❤️"

Screenshot of Tyra's tweet

She later told Entertainment Tonight that she had addressed the blackface photoshoots on her talk show soon after the 2009 episode aired. She said: "I apologized for it, 'cause we put it out, and even me just watching it after, I was like, 'Ooh, this ain't right.'"

Closeup of Tyra Banks

Speaking on her show in 2009, Tyra told viewers that she was sorry for "any offense" that the challenge had caused. Explaining the thought process behind darkening the models' skin, Tyra said: "We felt like our skin's beautiful, let's paint the world our color. Then we saw it, and we were like, 'Oh no, this excuses other people to do this in a negative way.'"

Closeup of Tyra

Also in 2020, Tyra said that the way she spoke to some of the models, including the teeth-gap incident, made her “cringe” as she pointed out that she'd already acknowledged the backlash in her 2018 book, Perfect Is Boring.

Closeup of Tyra Banks

"I wrote a book, I talked about this, and apologized and said, 'You know what, I shouldn't have done that,'" Tyra said. "But I felt the need to apologize again because not everybody saw that."

Skip to footer