Now coming to you straight out of Detroit are two culturally relevant, must-experience items to add to your fall schedule. The first is a documentary titled “Donyale Luna: Supermodel” on HBO. The second is a new album titled ‘9’ by piano prodigy BLKBOK (Black Bach).
Both are powerful reminders of how being Black in America adds breath taking beauty and soul stirring inspiration to a world desperately in need of both.
Donyale Luna, once teased for being skinny and funny looking by kids on the block, took the modeling world by storm and is now considered to be the world’s first Black supermodel. She graced the covers of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue in the late 60’s. The native Detroiter was born Peggy Ann Freeman. She grew into her nom de plume Donyale Luna propelled in part by the success of the Black is Beautiful movement popularized by Kwame Brathwaite in 1962. Sadly, after her untimely death in 1979, she was largely forgotten.
Thankfully her story has been rediscovered. What emerges in this documentary is more than the wild ride to superstardom in the go-go 60’s and 70’s. On a much deeper level, the documentary is about the love of a daughter for a mother she never knew, on behalf of the grandchildren her mother would never meet because she died way too young at 33.
Yes, we get to bear witness to the all-to-familiar struggles of Black Americans in a world fighting to come to terms with racial equality. Yes, we feel the sting of loneliness and separation success tends to bring with fame – punctuated in the time before cell phones and the worldwide web. And yes, we feel the sting of loss that comes with a life lived large and then cut far too short. The sister who directed this film, Nailah Jefferson deserves an Academy Award for her new documentary.
The thing giving this documentary unparalleled grace is how we can see and feel all of the triumph and tragedy through the loving eyes of Luna’s daughter Dream Cazzaniga, who is still alive and well, living in Italy. Cazzaniga served as the executive producer and narrates the film. Her voice is filled with emotion that at times almost sings with a hauntingly beautiful English-Italian accent. The effort brings history to life, making the film a soothing ode to her mother for the grandchildren she never knew in a world that didn’t know how to truly appreciate the gift of Black beauty shone in Luna. Cazzaniga adds feeling and perspective that brings healing to the mother-daughter relationship. We should all be so lucky to know love on this level. Donyale Luna: Supermodel is Oscar gold.
9 is Divine Grammy Material
BLKBOK gives plenty of healing love with his new album 9.The Detroiter’swork is a soulful blend of neoclassical piano lit with narrative feats by his personal life coach Dr. Felicia Thomas. Here music is poetry and poetry is music. The spirit soars high on keys with words to a place of self-discovery and generational healing all the way through this album. From the song Awareness, A new Reality to Grace & Forgiveness and on to A Better Way, Racism – BLKBOK gives us a musical gift of living and loving more fully as we continue the long march down freedom road.
This is Grammy Award material. For BLKBOK the inspiration for his new album was born in the civil rights struggle as he recounts here on Detroit’s public radio station WDET with Ann Delisi.
The struggle is real. Even so, both Donyale Luna: Supermodel and 9 remind us Black is still beautiful. They are worthy of your time this fall. Enjoy.
*Greg Bowens is a National Contributing Columnist for Blac Media based in metro Detroit. He’s also a public/media relations professional, political consultant, civil rights activist, co-founder and past president of the Grosse Pointes-Harper Woods NAACP Branch.