EXCLUSIVE: HBO Documentary Films is embarking on a documentary about pioneering supermodel Donyale Luna, one of the first Black models to be featured on the covers of major European fashion magazines.
Nailah Jefferson (Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe à la Hache), is directing the film, teaming with Oscar- and Emmy-winning Lightbox (HBO’s Tina and Whitney, LA 92), and Jeff Friday Media (HBO’s Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn).
Luna was born Peggy Anne Freeman in Detroit in 1945 and began going by the name Donyale Luna in her late teens as she launched her modeling career. In March 1966 she became the first model of color to grace the cover of the British edition of Vogue (wearing a Chloé dress and photographed by David Bailey). She also appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and other leading fashion publications. Richard Avedon and William Claxton are among the greats who photographed her. On the catwalk, she modeled for Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, and Paco Rabanne, among others.
“It’s a dream to tell the story of Donyale Luna – an iconic woman whose legacy and magic deserve celebration,” Jefferson said in a statement. “Black women’s historical contributions have often been forgotten and distorted. I’m honored to have the opportunity to uplift Donyale’s story and finally celebrate her brilliance.”
In addition to her modeling work, Luna became associated with Andy Warhol’s Factory, and appeared in his 1964 film Camp. She also played roles in the films Fellini Satyricon (1969), and Salomè (1972). Luna met surrealist artist Salvador Dalí in Europe and he promptly declared her to be one of his muses.
“Donyale Luna opened doors for other models of color into an industry which has largely excluded them,” Lightbox co-founders Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn noted. “We are thrilled to partner with Nailah to bring a fresh perspective on an enigmatic figure.”
The Donyale Luna documentary “is the second project from the initiative created jointly by Lightbox and American Black Film Festival to foster diversity in documentary filmmaking and discover and support emerging African American directing talent,” according to a release. “It follows the critically acclaimed HBO documentary Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn, directed by Muta’Ali Muhammad. [This year] marks the 25th anniversary of HBO’s partnership and sponsorship of the American Black Film Festival.”
Jeff Friday, CEO of Jeff Friday Media and ABFF founder, commented, “We are very pleased to continue this partnership with Lightbox and HBO Documentary Films. It empowers newcomers with the access and ability to share their stories with the world.”
Luna died of a drug overdose in 1979 at the age of 33, leaving behind her husband, Italian photographer Luigi Cazzaniga and an 18-month-old daughter, Dream Cazzaniga.
“My father and I are proud and eager to share Donyale’s inspiring and authentic journey,” Dream Cazzaniga said in a statement, “as well as what her avant-guard spirit meant for the world.”
In a 2019 tribute to her mother in the pages of Vogue, Dream Cazzaniga wrote, “[E]ven though I have only a few blurred memories of my mother, I feel her presence with me – and within me – more strongly every day. As a girl in rural Italy, I never fully appreciated the cultural legacy that she had bequeathed to me. It was only in my early twenties that I started to look deeper and ask more questions about her life – and the stories were even more remarkable than I could have imagined.”
No target release date for the film has been announced. The documentary is an HBO Documentary Films and Lightbox production in association with Jeff Friday Media and the American Black Film Festival. It is directed by Nailah Jefferson, produced by Melissa Kramer and Isoul Hussein Harris, and co-produced by Melanie Sharee. Executive producers are Jonathan Chinn, Simon Chinn, and Jeff Friday.
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