The upcoming HBO documentary Donyale Luna: Supermodel shines a light on the groundbreaking career of Donyale Luna, widely considered the first Black supermodel. In the 1960s, Luna broke barriers for women of color in fashion by becoming one of the first Black models to appear on the covers of major magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and British Vogue.
At a time when the modelling world was dominated by white models, Luna challenged conventions and paved the way for greater diversity by achieving these historic firsts. The new documentary explores Luna’s pioneering work and premature death at age 33, examining her legacy as one of the most influential Black models of her era who opened doors for those who followed.
As the trailer reveals, Luna shattered assumptions about Black models in the 1960s fashion industry. “She broke the mould of using Black models in the ’60s,” remarks one interviewee. Despite her trailblazing accomplishments, Luna remains overlooked, as another speaker questions: “Donyale Luna is the first Black woman to be on the cover of Vogue. Why don’t we know more about her?” The documentary aims to spotlight Luna’s achievements and her historical impact as a barrier-breaking model.
The teaser for the upcoming documentary confronts the racism that shaped a significant yet overlooked historical representation. It sheds light on Luna’s early struggles and industry discrimination, capturing her poignant question, “If I’m the best model, why am I sidelined?”
An expert emphasizes, “Luna faced dehumanization due to being a Black woman.” The film delves into Luna’s intricate identity as Peggy Ann Freeman, from Detroit, and her collaborations with icons like Warhol and Dalí.
Luna’s iconic response to queries about her origin, “I am Luna. I come from the moon,” adds depth to her enigmatic persona.
Directed by Nailah Jefferson, the project will follow Luna’s journey from New York to London and Italy, where she not only discovered love with photographer Luigi Cazzaniga but also forged a path in avant-garde theatre and film. Luna’s daughter, Dream Cazzaniga, will read from her mother’s journals, offering insights into the life of one of the pioneering Black icons in the industry and her lasting impact.
“Donyale Luna: Supermodel” will present insights from an array of voices, including Luna’s husband and daughter, renowned supermodels Beverly Johnson and Pat Cleveland, Vogue’s global editor-at-large Hamish Bowles, esteemed photographers David Bailey, David McCabe, and Gideon Lewin, as well as visionary fashion designers Zandra Rhodes and Aurora James. Dr. Richard J. Powell, an art history professor, former Essence editor-in-chief Constance White, former president of Next Model MGMT Kyle Hagler, along with close friends and family members, contribute to the documentary’s narrative.
The documentary is produced by Melissa Kramer, Isoul H. Harris, and Melanie Sharee, under Lightbox Production in collaboration with Jeff Friday Media and The American Black Film Festival. The executive producers of “Donyale Luna: Supermodel” include Jonathan Chinn, Simon Chinn, Jeff Friday, Dream Luna, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller, and supervising producer Anna Klein for HBO.
Mark your calendars for the documentary’s premiere on HBO on September 13, with streaming available on HBO Max.