Salvador Dali once said that Donyale Luna was the reincarnation of Queen Nefertiti. The famed artist was pretty accurate in his description of the Detroit native originally named, Peggy Ann Freeman. Her journey from an industrial city native to model and actress was a short lived one, but unique nonetheless. At the time, in mainstream media, no one had a look quite like hers. Her distinct, feline like facial features oozed with a mystique and splendor that turned heads and intrigued human eyes. In an article for New York Magazine Bethann Hardison commented, “no one looked like her she was like a really extroidinary species.”
Luna was the first black woman to be featured on a Vogue (British) cover in 1966 shot by photographer David Bailey whose works included shooting for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Prior to that, a sketch of her was featured in the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. In addition to modeling, she appeared in many films. Some were produced by Andy Warhol and she even starred in some Italian films including the 1972 film entitled Salomé.
The fashion world welcomed her with open arms as “the completely new image of the Negro woman”. However, Luna identified as mulatta And was cited as quick to point out her non-Black heritage of Indigenous-Mexican, Irish and Indonesian. Perhaps, in an attempt to runaway from social stigmas and stereotypes unfairly casts on a black person during a time where the Civil Rights Era was in full swing. Regardless, it was an inner struggle they may have impacted her deeply then those close to her ever knew.
The former model attained her superstar status, a first for a black model, due to not only her beauty, but also her eccentric personality. She stood out by playing up on her otherworldly beauty and grand physical form. The fashion and entertainment world served as her inner fantasies come to life. Perhaps, in some way, it elevated her as a black woman where in some places, she would go unnoticed and under appreciated especially in America.
In 2013, Keli Goff did a write up on the supermodel entitled, “The First Black Supermodel, Whok History Forgot.” Despite achieving so much in a short amount of time, the fruit of Luna”s legacy would die before becoming fully ripe. The start of her decline resulted from years of drug use catching up to her and the effects spilling out to other areas of her life. Unfortunately, Luna met an abrupt end due to a drug overdose at the young age of 33, leaving behind her husband, photographer Luigi Cazzaniga, and their baby daughter, Dream. Many may agree that she was ahead of her time as the wave of black models on the scene would not come until the seventies. It is crucial to note that Luna is definitely a legend. However, there are legends who long after they depart, continue to echo through the minds and hearts of people they touched. Due to her short lived life and legacy cut short, she is but a faint whisper. We still honor and recognize her.