Naomi Campbell is perhaps the most enduring and recognizable supermodel in the world, but as she revealed in an interview with Paris Match (translated from French via Google), her stardom is still no safeguard from racism. Saying “the challenge is permanent,” the model recounted an incident during the Cannes Film Festival—well-trod territory for the catwalk queen, who hosts an annual charity fashion show during the event.
“I was invited to participate in an event in a hotel whose name I will not mention,” she recounted (name names, Naomi!). “[They] did not want to let my friend and I in because of the color of my skin. The guy at the entrance pretended that the place was [full]. But he let other people pass.”
“It’s because of revolting moments like this one that I’ll continue to express myself and make myself heard,” the supermodel added.
Campbell, also an activist, considers the incident yet another reason why she continues to fight for equality, also referencing her mentorship by the late Nelson Mandela in the interview, saying “Mandela opened my eyes, my heart, and showed me the way. With him, I learned a lot.”
Former model Bethann Hardison was also a great mentor to Campbell, who in 2013 joined the fashion activist and fellow supermodel Iman in calling out the lack of diversity on the runway and calls Hardison “a pioneer.” When asked by Paris Match whether her race was an asset in her success, Campbell was frank. “Yes and no. I have always refused the idea that it hinders me. There were obstacles, but in the business, the girls [her fellow supermodels] helped me a lot.”
And though the supermodel has continually traveled the world during the course of her now 30-year career, she recalled that at the start, “I had only one idea in my mind: to discover America. I had seen so many movies! For a first trip, we went back from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, then Alabama, Mississippi, and Pensacola, Fla. For a young black girl, discovering the southern United States was a very intense experience.”
Now a veteran in her field, Campbell is building off of the success of her recently launched YouTube channel, reportedly working on a show for Amazon with fellow model-turned moguland Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame. But Campbell says it’s Africa that is her biggest ambition.
“My dream is to go to all African countries,” she tells Paris Match. “I still have a lot to do. I want to change the perception of this continent, and encourage the people of our world to invest in infrastructure. For this mission, I will never be tired.”