360® captured Mora’s adolescence and future aspirations through a photoshoot at New York Fashion Week.
Naima Mora [NM], the winner of Tyra Banks‘ America’s Next Top Model [ANTM] Cycle 4, is one of Detroit’s most resilient natives. Their narrative is based on a multi-generational lineage of artisans, providing a beacon of light to depleted spirits during these turbulent times. Both NM’s parents were jazz cats; and both grandparents were globally praised craftspeople. Her grandfather, Francisco ‘Pancho’ Mora, was a Mexican muralist; and her grandmother, Elizabeth Catlett, was an African American sculptor.
Within the Motor City limits, they grew up on 6 Mile and Schaefer, “I’m a little hood under all of this glitz and glam,” Mora states. At times, whenever Ford Town became dangerously violent, they turned to graffiti and hung with an eclectic underground peer group. From there, the flock further introduced them to another subculture of music and dance, techno and b-boy. NM frequented the infamous St. Andrew’s Hall, a performance venue where recognizeable bands played like R.E.M. and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In its basement, The Shelter became an iconic backdrop for battle rap legend Eminem. Moreover, as a teenager, they met Carl Craig, the founder of Movement Music Festival, another person who ushered them into an even deeper artisanal vibration of the city. “There’s a lot of programs that really cater to young people and instill confidence. At a weekend workshop, “Brianna R. Furnish of the Ballet Renaissance gave me a scholarship… she would teach me in the evenings at Wayne State University… [in exchange] on the weekends, I would teach the ‘lil babies [or toddlers].”
Upon graduation from Cass Technical High School, Mora relocated to NYC. They immediately auditioned and were accepted into the Dance Theatre of Harlem. When questioned, if they’re ever intimidated or felt threatened due to their outer appearances, NM replied, “That is a conversation of colorism that happens in any community of brown folks… Colorism is the effect of slavery… I was ‘light-skin’ with ‘good hair’ and experienced a lot of hate because of it. My father is Mexican and black. And, my mother is black and Irish and of indigenous descent, so I came out looking like this.”
Regardless, Mora continues and comes to a realization that they’ve ultimately learned to love the skin that they are in.
“I’m now signed with State [Model] Management,” she exhales.” Soon after, NM was booked on a Chrysler [Stellantis] campaign back in their own stomping grounds. With excitement, they spoke highly of the gastronomy discovered in The D. Nevertheless, Mora’s identical twin and proficient photographer, Nia, was conducive to their success: by finding your light, knowing your best angles while practicing poses; and thus making themselves become more confident. In fact, it was at the Coffee Shop, where she worked as a hostess, that reality TV producers got wind of her exotic features. The management was notorious for discovering beautiful talent and/or hiring top-level agency new faces.
“I remember Laverne Cox was working there with me at the time, and we both auditioned for Top Model [ANTM]. Prior to Top Model, I wasn’t groomed or polished. The casting directors from Top Model clearly saw something in me, and Tyra really loved my look… They had me on the show, and the rest is history.”
Although ANTM contestants were under a strict 24-hour surveilance, their image was handled with kid gloves, largely attributed to their positive on-air persona coupled with them eventually being named winner. After the show wrapped, Mora was grateful how the network portrayed them in each and every episode leading up to the finale. Compared to what actually transpired while filming, being captured chain smoking cigarettes.
Fast-forward, Mora acknowledges that their Detroit upbringing, alongside the exposure to a rigorous shoot schedule, is a reality-based competition that prepared them for a pivot into acting.
This was quite evident when they were effortlessly cast in a scripted show and played opposite Hollywood A-Lister, Morris Chestnut (Boyz n the Hood, The Best Man). In fact, Mora recalls having their ‘debut’ while subsequently experiencing an epiphany while speaking to, “All I have to do is show up!”
At 39, Mora’s racial ambiguity, combined with sophisticated androgeny, has placed them in a league of their own.
NAIMA MORA PICTORIAL CREDITS