CANNES, France — “Who gets to do this?” said Aja Naomi King, seated in the beachside L’Oréal Paris studio in Cannes, with a window onto the boat-studded Mediterranean Sea.
King, who recently joined the brand as a spokesperson, confessed she almost hyperventilated when preparing to walk the Cannes Film Festival’s red carpet for the first time a day earlier, for the premiere of Christophe Honoré’s “Sorry Angel.” “I had so much excitement coursing through me that I was like, ‘I’m going to pass out,’” she said, before erupting into laughter.
But for the activist actress, it’s not all about the surface level glitter. As a woman in the entertainment business, King said she feels like the power dynamics are shifting.
“They’ve slowly been shifting as we’ve gotten more female and more diverse content creators, and we’ve seen more inclusivity over the years. But now these women, especially, are meeting behind closed doors and having discussions about what they want to achieve and change, and are sending out the troops. The change is happening as we speak,” she said, adding: “It took powerful women talking about it and other powerful people taking them seriously.”
The “How to Get Away With Murder” actress uses Instagram as a platform for causes from Black Lives Matter to Time’s Up.
“I feel like we’re all in our own bubble, and when there are experiences like these that are reaching the international stage, I think it’s great for your followers to know you’re paying attention and that you care. Especially if you’re someone going through either of these things in a detrimental way, to know that you have the support of people you may admire, I feel like it gives them the strength and confidence that people need to speak out against these things and educate themselves about what is going on and to share their own personal experiences,” she said.
She will also be taking part in the Teen Vogue Summit in early June. “It’s been awesome, Teen Vogue has captured the spirit of young activists especially — not only having discussions about beauty and fashion, but also the world and the part we take in it,” the actress said.
King, who used makeup as “armor” when she was young, said she still sees makeup as “a security blanket in a way.” “It’s not about not being comfortable with who you are — I love myself, I love how I look with or without makeup on, but there is something creatively powerful about being able to say, ‘This is how I’m choosing to present myself to the world today,’” she said, adding that when it comes to applying makeup, eyebrows are her weak point.
If she could choose, the story she would most like to tell on-screen would be that of Coretta Scott King, Tina Turner or Dorothy Dandridge. Ava DuVernay tops her wish list of directors.
King has just wrapped filming “A Girl from Mogadishu,” in which she plays Ifrah Ahmed, a young woman who escaped war-torn Somalia and was smuggled into Ireland, where she became an activist and campaigned to have legislation passed against female genital mutilation in her home country.
King first met Ahmed in Los Angeles after she accepted the part, then got to spend time with her in Belgium, Ireland and Morocco, where Ahmed stayed for the bulk of the filming.
“She is a force of nature. You do end up putting that kind of pressure on yourself because it’s a real person, and they’re standing right beside you. I was like, she’s going to be analyzing everything I’m doing and I really want to do this well,” King said.
“The most amazing thing about her is that, regardless of all the things that have happened to her, her spirit is so undaunted by all of it. She is the most cheerful person you will ever meet. She doesn’t see problems, she only sees solutions,” she added.
When it comes to style, the actress, who donned a Zuhair Murad couture dress and Messika baubles for her red carpet outing the night before, said her everyday approach to dressing centers on comfort. “Some people are comfortable in heels, and some people are comfortable barefoot,” King said. “And I am most comfortable in fuzzy socks and cashmere sweatpants.”