Zendaya channels Detroit supermodel Donyale Luna for 'Essence' cover


  • Courtesy photo
Singer and Euphoria actress Zendaya gives a nod to Donyale Luna, the Detroit native known as "the first Black supermodel," on the cover of the new issue of Essence.

The stunning black and white photos were taken by photographers Ahmad Barber and Donté Maurice, who confirmed on Twitter that Luna was the source of inspiration for the shoot.

"It was such an honor to pay homage to a woman that was such a ground breaking and polarizing figure in the 60s," Maurice wrote. "Hope she would be proud."

Born Peggy Ann Freeman in Detroit, Luna was the first Black model to appear on the cover of the British Vogue in March 1966. (The year before, a sketch of Luna's likeness appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar, though her race was ambiguous.)

Luna got her big break when the English photographer David McCabe saw her on the streets of Detroit in 1963. "I was on a photo assignment in Detroit, photographing Ford cars [and] there was a school nearby," he recalled. "I was struck by this almost 6-foot-tall beautiful girl — around 14-years-old at the time — wearing her Catholic uniform. She stopped to see what was going on."

Encouraged by McCabe, Luna later moved to New York City to pursue modeling (against the wishes of her mother, who wanted her to become a nurse instead). There, Luna would become a muse for the likes of Andy Warhol, Federico Fellini, and Richard Avedon, and eventually married Italian photographer Luigi Cazzaniga.

"Back in Detroit I wasn't considered beautiful or anything," Luna said in a 1966 Time Magazine interview, "but here I'm different.”

At the age of 33 Luna's drug habit caught up with her, leading her to an accidental heroin overdose on May 17, 1979 in Rome.

You can learn more about her life here.

Zendaya, 24, also almost impersonated another famous and fashionable Detroit woman — she was set to star as the late R&B singer Aaliyah in Lifetime's biopic, Aaliyah: The Princess of R & B. However, Zendaya quit after concerns about its production value surfaced, including news that Aaliyah's family did not grant the film their blessing and refused to allow Aaliyah's musical catalog to be used.

It was probably for the better: the film was widely panned.

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