Naomi Campbell, burgeoning YouTube star, first used her channel to teach us how to travel like a supermodel. Her next lesson? How to respond like a supermodel when globally-read tabloid The Daily Mail accuses you of befriending super-villains and pedophiles.
Last week it was announced that the British Fashion Council would honor Naomi for her philanthropic work at London’s Albert Hall in December. Her charity, Fashion For Relief, has involved itself in a variety of relief efforts from Hurricane Katrina to the Tohoku disaster. She’s also donated a significant amount of time and money to African charities and organizations representing a spectrum of causes. (Additionally, she owns a portion of Lagos Arise Fashion Week, which she hopes will land Nigeria on the international fashion radar.)
Expectedly, this award did not sit well with the notoriously conservative Daily Mail. Following the press release from the BFC, the tabloid published an extensive list of international “hair raising characters” that Campbell has “rubbed shoulders with” during her decades-long career. The cast of super-villains included: Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein, Kevin Spacey, and Harvey Weinstein. As the Daily Mail put it:
After a lifetime of private planes and yacht parties, Naomi’s new role as a philanthropist might take a little getting used to, although a £45 million fortune means she can certainly afford to be charitable. [...] For all the glamour of her jet-setting social circle, she has also rubbed shoulders with another, altogether less wholesome crowd – a hair-raising cast of characters, in fact, with dubious and in some cases bloodthirsty reputations. No doubt Naomi plans to celebrate her half century in style, but she’d be wise to strike some old acquaintances from the guest list.
The paper imagines that her preferred (and well documented) social circle of billionaires and politicians is a shocking and unknown fact about celebrities and philanthropists like her. That isn’t the case! Wealth concentrates not just financially, but socially too. These infamous names could easily be listed next to any number of successful authors, journalists, athletes, and businessmen.
As such, I expected this story would have ended with the Daily Mail. Despite its wide reach, you won’t often find celebrities of Naomi’s caliber responding to its dubious journalistic practices. Then... this happened.
In the above video, Naomi speaks to an unseen narrator who “interviews” her about the Daily Mail’s allegations. Despite the addition of a second party, Naomi spends most of it addressing the camera directly. The dissonance this causes is only magnified by the other woman’s robotic diction and seemingly scripted questions. In the opening moments, the interviewer states: “Thank you for sitting down with me Naomi, and letting me talk to you today. I’ve known you for some time, so I know it’s important to hear your point of view on The Mail on Sunday.” Her relationship with Naomi is never established. She isn’t even named! (Naomi’s team has yet to respond to my request for clarification on the woman’s identity.)
Naomi starts by admitting that she’s “not a saint” but a “work in progress,” while stressing that she won’t be “held hostage” by her past. In her version of events, the Mail published a “distorted piece of journalism” in an attempt to assassinate her character. “We can read between the lines and know why they keep coming at me,” she admits, addressing the paper’s prominent conservative (read: racist) bias. In regard to Epstein, she states plainly she had no idea about his actions:
What he’s done is indefensible, and when I’d heard of what he’d done, it sickened me to my stomach like everyone else. Because I’ve had my fair share of sexual predators, and thank god that I had good people around me who protected me from this.
Twice in the video, Naomi says she knows “many journalists” and has done “great interviews” throughout her career. Why she wouldn’t seek one out for a proper interview is unclear. It might have to do with her hesitancy at relinquishing control of a narrative she clearly wants to manage internally. The questions not only sound scripted, but are often leading: “If a story like this doesn’t take into account the person being interviewed, does it then become fake news?” “Has this article made you think differently about the state of journalism today, and did you think this one-sided way of reporting could be considered sinister?” As for the paparazzi photos resurfaced by the Daily Mail, here is her response:
Interviewer: How many people have you rubbed shoulders with, as the Mail on Sunday put it.
Naomi: I’ve rubbed shoulders with hundreds of thousands of people. I mean I find it extraordinary that of all the hundreds of thousands of people that I’ve stood next to take a picture at a public event, they go and choose these few. It’s going to be very difficult to be photographed at public events, because you’re going to think, “If you do take a picture it’s going to be taken out of context and used in a negative way. So it’s going to be sad for everybody.”
Her fear that any number of photos can be taken wildly out of context is not just understandable, but grounded in her reality as a black woman. She’s spent much of her career fighting against the racism she’s encountered from all sectors of the fashion world and has turned around to champion countless black models and artists who endure the same. Unfortunately, it also underscores an unspoken message: how can anyone possibly expect someone to vet the many, many, many billionaires they frequently party with? In the video’s closing moments, she punctuates this point with a title card:
But as social media becomes our culture’s primary conduit to celebrities, it will only be harder for the rich and famous to ignore the nefarious characters that populate their social circles. There is also a generation coming of age that is more politically active than ever before, who won’t find themselves enamored by the glitz and glamour that defined many celebrities’ early careers.
This might be the first time a superstar of Naomi’s caliber has used YouTube to respond directly to the tabloids in this way. And with a channel pushing 300,000 subscribers and counting, I’d expect the practice will only increase in popularity as more join the platform. (Among those already there: Zendaya, Zac Efron, Jason Momoa, The Rock, and Will Smith.) My only warning, then, is this: if you thought the Mail was a nightmare, just wait until you run afoul of the Youtube drama industry.