Refugee film "I Am You" tells "very important" story, model and executive producer Halima Aden says

Model Halima Aden on producing refugee film
Model Halima Aden on producing refugee film 05:52

Somali-American model Halima Aden, who made history when she wore a burkini and hijab during the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in 2016, is now an executive producer of a film highlighting the experience of refugees, she announced on "CBS This Morning" Thursday. Aden shared why she immediately became "obsessed" with the story in "I Am You."

Aden, who is also a UNICEF ambassador, met Sonia Nassery Cole, the filmmaker of "I Am You," at a UNICEF gala last summer, she said. After hearing about the film, which tells the story of a young refugee from Afghanistan whose father is killed by ISIS,  she wanted to be involved.

"Immediately, I was like, 'I'm hooked, I'm obsessed. What can I do to support you?'" Aden said. "So she brought me on to executive produce."

The story is personal to Aden, who was a refugee at the Kakuma UNHCR refugee camp in Kenya as a child. But, she said, she learned more about the hardships of other refugees through the film.

Halima Aden CBS News

"I was born and raised in Kakuma ... all I knew was life in the camp, and it was a very protected childhood," she said. "So I got to learn a lot through Sonia and through watching the film because the journey that the main characters have to take is a dangerous one and it's just so heartbreaking, and it really provokes empathy for what they had to go through just to survive."

The film is an opportunity to show that "refugees are humans, just like anybody else," Aden said. 

"It's called 'I Am You' because we can reflect in these characters. They are us. At the end of the day we all bleed the same, we all hurt the same, we all want the same things in life," she said. "For me especially, I wanted to be part of a project where people get to see that, you know, people are not leaving their countries just for a better life or a better opportunity or to be closer to, you know, family or friends. They're literally being forced from their homes."

Aden added that the story is especially significant now. "We're living in a time where it's the largest refugee crisis since World War II," she said. "It's very, very important that we are highlighting stories like the film 'I Am You.'"

Aden also spoke about being the first woman to wear a hijab and burkini in the "Sports illustrated" swimsuit issue. She said it was important for her to set an example for younger women.

"I really want to show girls, you don't have to conform, you don't have to change. If a woman feels beautiful and confident in a two-piece, one-piece, bikini, that's amazing," she said. "I feel beautiful in a burkini, and I should also get to celebrate that."

The model recently posted a photo of herself as a child wearing a hijab on Instagram with the caption, "My hijab is not going anywhere." She said she wanted to make clear that she remains authentic even as her career grows.

"It was just a reminder the hijab is not going away today, not tomorrow, not ever. And so, you don't have to worry about me switching up," she said. "I think we should all be ourselves, and that is the only way to be."