Halima Aden

Somali-American Model

Co-Director, Producer, and Director of Photography

With: Al Jazeera Witness


© Mike Shum


by Mike Shum and Arthur Nazaryan

Halima Aden came to public attention in 2016, as the first contestant to wear a hijab and burkini at the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant. But her story resonated far beyond the worlds of pageantry and modelling.

Less than a month after the election of President Donald Trump, who had portrayed Minnesota's Somali community - to which Halima belongs - as a hotbed of extremism, Halima was showing the world that Somalis in Minnesota were part of the fabric of the state and, in many ways, defining its future.

By the time we met her in early 2017 to discuss the possibility of this film, Halima was just beginning her meteoric ascent from local beauty pageant contestant to international model.

She was keenly aware of what she represented, not only to Somali Americans, but to young Muslims who were eager to see themselves represented beyond the tired caricatures often found in the media.

But she also revealed a personal struggle: in spite of all her success, and what that meant to so many, her mother - supportive as she was - still could not accept that her daughter was a model.

Having grappled with the cultural and intergenerational gap that so often accompanies the immigrant experience ourselves, we were especially drawn to this aspect of her story.

Published on Nov 3rd, 2018 for Al Jazeera Witness

Filmmaker's discussion on Halima documentary at SPNN in St. Paul, MN

Watch full film on Al Jazeera Witness