By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Vanity Fair unveiled the cover of its annual Hollywood issue on Tuesday, featuring "fresh stars of 2012" who were chosen for the impact they made through movies, including Oscar nominees Rooney Mara and Jessica Chastain.
"We're looking for actresses who are doing great work on the screen. And if they're young and beautiful, well that doesn't hurt either," wrote Vanity Fair features editor Jane Sarkin in an email to Reuters. Most are in their 20s. The eldest is Paula Patton at age 36.
The 11 stars picked alongside Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and Chastain ("The Help") for the prestigious 3-page cover include last year's best actress Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence and "Albert Nobbs" actress Mia Wasikowska.
They are joined on the cover insert by "Martha Marcy May Marlene" actress Elizabeth Olsen, "The Descendants" breakout star Shailene Woodley, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" action lady Patton, "Abduction" star Lily Collins, "Pariah" actress Adepero Oduye, Chicago native writer-actor Brit Marling and "Like Crazy" actress Felicity Jones.
"This group has solid acting cred. Some have already taken on great roles, and I think that all of these girls are on the go-to list for every film currently being cast," explained Sarkin.
The art-deco style shoot, which sees the ladies wearing pastel colored dresses with feathers and furs inspired by the Jazz age of the 1920s and '30s, was conducted by famed photographer Mario Testino.
The annual cover of the March issue, which has featured stars such as Anne Hathaway, James Franco, Carey Mulligan and Amy Adams in recent years, was described by Sarkin as a "casting couch" that helped raise actor's profiles.
The issue has often been criticized in the past for its lack of racial diversity among the stars and despite featuring two African American women on this year's cover, the magazine drew critical fire again.
Dodai Stewart, editor of feminist website Jezebel, noted that the two black actresses, Patton and Oduye, in the 3-page cover were excluded from the left "power panel" and put on the insert, saying "it's pretty obvious that Hollywood has a serious problem with diversity."
Film website Cinemablend.com also lamented the exclusion of this year's Oscar nominees Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, stars of "The Help," and questioned the inclusion of Collins.
"We're very pleased with our cover and the talented women who adorn all three panels," Sarkin said in response to the critics.
The March issue of Vanity Fair will be available on newsstands from February 2.
(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)