Name: Arnell Banahene
Agency: Multii Media Agency
Claim to Fame: Banahene has appeared in videos for Saint John, and T.I. She was also featured in an exclusive editorial series published at ESSENCE.
Arnell Banahene began modeling as a favor. “I had a best friend and her older sister, she had a hair company and she just needed a model,” she said.
She began to take modeling more seriously following her graduation from East Orange Campus High School. She opted not to continue her education to pursue a full-time modeling career. Banahene moved to Brooklyn instead hoping that she would be able to build a career in Manhattan.
She attended open calls and castings while seeking representation. She sent emails and signed up for mailing lists to get information about potential opportunities but she was disappointed to be held back by her lack of a social media following when she arrived at auditions.
“I wasn’t modeling full-time. I was actually, working as a waitress and honestly, just living on someone’s couch, it was a struggle,” she said. ”It still is.”
Banahene was criticized about her height at runway castings and often suspected that she was facing colorism in certain commercial castings. She resented being placed in the “edgy box,” many models with darker skin have relegated to since the success of the first Black runway models to sport cropped cuts and futuristic makeup. “It was just very hard to find work because there wasn’t really a lane for me, as far as me being dark skin or not really having that much followers on Instagram,” she continued. “I feel like with Black women, we don’t have, we don’t see in a variety of like ranges when it comes to us being models, you always see either a mixed race Black model or a light-skinned model.”
She noted that there are “not really a lot of like different models that are dark skin that come in all shapes and sizes.” She referred to the near homogeneous aesthetics of darker models in the late nineties and early aughts that persists in high fashion. “We’re expected to shave our hair off,” she added. “And look a certain type of way we’re just stigmatized.”
Banahene is still attending traditional castings but she pivoted to music videos in the hope to be able to land herself in a place with more leverage. She has appeared in projects for Saint John and T.I. and is actively being pitched for campaigns. She also chose to sign with a multidisciplinary agency that caters to all kinds of creatives and claims to have a mandate to reduce “oppressive industry norms.”
“I just want to break those chains,” she declared. “There’s a lot of people out here in the world, all shapes and sizes. So we need better representation.”