What The Rock's Botched Wax Figure Reveals About The White Gaze

People of color tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to being accurately visually represented.
The Dwayne Johnson wax figure is unveiled at Gr茅vin Museum on Oct. 16 in Paris, France.
The Dwayne Johnson wax figure is unveiled at Gr茅vin Museum on Oct. 16 in Paris, France.
Marc Piasecki via Getty Images

Dwayne 鈥淭he Rock鈥 Johnson and Lil Wayne have both gone viral this week for calling out unflattering artistic renderings of themselves, and the internet is having an absolute field day over it. And rightfully so.

Johnson has aired out the unfortunate fact that the wax figure of him on display at the Gr茅vin Museum in Paris has not a whiff of melanin in it (the actor is of Black and Samoan descent), and instead boasts a skin tone that can only be described as extremely caucasian.

Lil Wayne also had a problem with a figure of himself that debuted in 2022 at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, that had his likeness smiling awkwardly while flashing his chest with a crazed, empty look in his waxy eyes. Also, the sculpture looks like a 16-year-old. Basically, it鈥檚 A Milli-ion types of wrong.

鈥淪orry wax museum but dat shit ain鈥檛 me!鈥 he tweeted this week. 鈥淵ou tried tho and I appreciate the effort.鈥

These examples are, unfortunately, part of a long tradition of botched wax figures, which seem to curiously afflict the people of color they鈥檙e supposed to resemble. Remember that one infamous wax figure of Nicki Minaj at Berlin鈥檚 Madame Tussauds that made the queen of rap look like someone none of us have ever seen before in our lives? Specifically, her facial features were just off. And then there was that even more sacrilegious wax figure at New York鈥檚 Madame Tussauds of Beyonc茅, with light skin and elongated features that turned her into a Euro-centric version of herself.

There are probably many reasons that wax museums seem to go so wrong when trying to create sculptures of Black and brown people, and to be fair, creating a physically accurate wax figure of someone is probably super difficult. But beyond that, there鈥檚 no doubt that people of color tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to being accurately represented or identified in general. Studies have shown that we are often mistaken for each other in the workplace, even when they look nothing alike.

This shows up in even more consequential spaces through AI software, which generally has more trouble telling people of color apart. In fact, one study found that Black and Asian people were 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white men. In the wax figure universe, the most common manifestation of this comes in getting the skin tones of people of color all wrong and often lightening them, sending a not-so-subtle message that lighter skin is more visually pleasurable.

Of course, Johnson鈥檚 and Lil Wayne鈥檚 latest wax faux pas might have simply been instances of careless artistry, but I have so many questions. How did these wax figures get approved to be displayed in wax museums in the first place? Surely, there must be some type of protocol in place where several people have to agree that the figure is visually accurate. Are artists of color involved in the process? If that鈥檚 the case, then these botched wax figures have no business existing.

Maybe I鈥檓 being too cynical, but I can鈥檛 help but think that these wax figure fiascos come at least in part from a tendency to not pay close attention to people of color鈥檚 individuality and our unique features. It鈥檚 almost like the wax figures are outward manifestations of what we look like through a white lens, and it鈥檚 actually quite unsettling to see.

Johnson鈥檚 team was so disturbed that they asked the Paris wax museum to edit his skin and melanate him immediately 鈥 and the museum is complying. It just goes to show that the more we speak out, the less ghostly renditions of celebrities of color we might have to deal with.

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