Review: ‘Subjects of Desire,’ starring Ryann Richardson, Alex Germain, Seraiah Nicole, India.Arie, Amanda Parris, Cheryl Thompson and Carolyn West

April 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Contestants in the 2018 Miss Black America Pageant, including Alex Germain (far left) and Ryann Richardson (far right), in “Subjects of Desire” (Photo courtesy of Hungry Eyes Media)

“Subjects of Desire”

Directed by Jennifer Holness

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the U.S. and Canada, the documentary film “Subjects of Desire” features a predominantly black group of women discussing the intersection between beauty standards and what it means to be a black female.

Culture Clash: Several people in the documentary say that black beauty characteristics are often co-opted when white people benefit from cultural appropriation, but the same characteristics are used against black people, who are subjected to racist ideas of what is considered “beautiful.”

Culture Audience: “Subjects of Desire” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in an impactful and honest examination of how racism plays a role in how black females are perceived in American society.

Contestants in the 2018 Miss Black America Pageant, including Ryann Richardson (second from left) and Alex Germain (front row, in pink), in “Subjects of Desire” (Photo courtesy of Hungry Eyes Media)

The empowering statement “Black is beautiful” first emerged in the 1950s. And since then, a lot has occurred in civil rights for black people in the United States. However, the insightful documentary “Subjects of Desire” shows how black women feel about the still-prevalent and damaging racism in how black females are treated and perceived by beauty standards in American society. Astutely directed by Jennifer Holness and narrated by Garvia Bailey, “Subjects of Desire” had its world premiere at the 2021 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

Grammy-winning singer India.Arie talks about the impact of her breakthrough 2001 hit “Video,” a song about how she accepts how she looks, even though she’s doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of a light-skinned video vixen. “That song taught me a lot about people. The whole time I was writing it, I thought, ‘This is how I want people to understand who I am.’ And then [the song] came out, and people were telling me, ‘That’s how I felt!'”

“Subjects of Desire” has the 2018 Miss Black America beauty pageant (the event’s 50th anniversary) as a central focus of the documentary. The movie includes footage of behind-the-scenes pageant preparations, as well as interviews with several of the contestants. However, the documentary also gives a cultural overview of how systemic racism affects people’s perceptions of what is considered “beautiful” or “desirable” in society. Only black women are interviewed in this documentary, so that their voices are heard and not drowned out by people who haven’t lived the experience of being a black woman their entire lives.

The only exception is an interviewee who has lived her life as a white woman and as a black woman: controversial activist/artist Rachel Dolezal, a woman who is biologically white/Caucasian, but she began self-identifying as black around the time that she wanted to have Afro-centric jobs. Dolezal, who was born in 1977, used to be the president of Spokane, Washington’s chapter of the NAACP, and she taught Africana studies at Eastern Washington University. The controversy over her race made headlines when she admitted in 2015 that she was born to white parents and lived as a white female until sometime in the mid-2000s, when she began living as a black woman.

In 2002, when Dolezal was still living as a white woman, she unsuccessfully sued her alma mater Howard University (a historically black-majority school) for racial discrimination, by claiming the university denied her a job, a scholarship and other opportunities as a white woman. Dolezal doesn’t talk about that lawsuit in the “Subjects of Desire” documentary, but she does complain about being misunderstood, and she compares her situation to experiences of transgender people. “I get a lot of hate from different groups,” she claims. “I cancelled my white privilege.”

Dolezal’s presence in this documentary doesn’t take up too much screen time (only about 10 to 15 minutes in a 103-minute film), and she doesn’t say anything new that she didn’t already say in her 2018 Netflix documentary “The Rachel Divide.” Dolezal seems to have been included in “Subjects of Desire” as part of a necessary but uncomfortable topic discussed in the documentary: White people co-opting aspects of black beauty culture for their own self-benefit. Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner are frequently mentioned in the documentary as celebrities who are guilty of excessive appropriation of black culture to get attention for themselves.

“Subjects of Desire” does an excellent job of explaining the current dichotomy in beauty standards for women in American society, where many white women try to look more “black” and many women of color try to look more “white.” On the one hand, physical characteristics that are usually attributed to women of African biological heritage—darker skin, fuller lips, a more pronounced rear end—have become desired characteristics in how numerous women alter their physical appearance through tanning, lip fillers and butt implants.

African-styled braids or Afro-Caribbean-styled dreadlocks are other Afro-centric beauty characteristics that have been co-opted by people who are not of African descent. Even the hair perms that were popular in the 1970s were based on a desire to have hair resembling black people’s natural hair. It’s pointed out in the documentary that the rise of the Black Power movement in the late 1960 and 1970s coincided with the rise in popularity of these hairstyles until they became more accepted in mainstream society.

On the other hand, several people in the documentary point out that black women and women of color are often treated better based on how close to “white” they can look. Skin bleaching, having straight hair (through chemical treatments or hair weaves), having blonde hair and wearing blue or green contact lenses are all mentioned as examples of how black women alter their appearances to try to look more “white.” The natural hair movement (the practice of black people wearing their hair unprocessed and not straightened) has popularity that goes up and goes down. But what hasn’t changed is the fact that how a black woman wears her hair can determine what types of employment or other opportunities that she gets or is prevented from having.

“Subjects of Desire” has footage of a group of black teenage girls (of various skin tones) who discuss how beauty standards, particularly when it comes to hair and skin color, affect their self-esteem and any sense of power that they might have. The girls give some real and raw insight into how acutely aware they are that how they wear their hair will affect how a lot of people will treat them or perceive them. And the “white preference” bias doesn’t just come from white people. It also comes from many people of color who’ve internalized the racist belief that anything to do with non-white culture is inferior to white culture.

Although there are people of many different races, beauty standards in the United States are often seen in terms of black and white. Broadcaster/author Amanda Parris explains: “Because of racism, that [beauty] binary also included the binary of black and white. And that led to black women being on one end, and white women being on the other.”

Because the Internet has provided larger mass communication than ever before, today’s young people have grown up more accustomed to cultural differences than previous generations. And therefore, society’s views of beauty are more intertwined with race and political issues than ever before. The rise of Instagram, YouTube and other social media—where everyday people can become their own influencers instead of leaving everything to the usual elite gatekeepers—have also caused a massive shift in who gets to define what is “beautiful.”

“Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal” author Heather Widdows, a professor of global ethics at the University of Birmingham in Alabama, comments on this cultural change: “Appearances were becoming more and more dominant in young women’s lives. And this was an issue of justice too. Beauty has become an ethical ideal.”

However, old stereotypes remain. Dr. Cheryl Thompson, an assistant professor at Ryerson University and the author of “Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture,” has this to say about the racism that still exists in beauty ideals: “In beauty culture, black has to be minimized as much as possible, or exoticized in a certain way, so that you really see the difference.”

Thompson says that this racism has been taught for generations because of the United States’ shameful history with slavery and how that has affected people’s perceptions of white women and black women: “Getting married was kind of difficult [for black people] during slavery, so we’re already seen as ‘immoral’ and not holding the sanctity of womanhood … The history of black womanhood and white womanhood, it is so overlayed with labor and issues of purity and domesticity.”

Lighter-skinned black women in the slavery era were more likely to be chosen to work in the home, while darker-skinned black women were more likely to do the hardest labor outside. The repercussions of white slave owners enacting this favoritism based on skin color (also known as colorism) can still be seen and experienced today. Several people who comment in the documentary point out that black people who rise to the very top levels of high-profile professions tend to be lighter-skinned than the average black person.

Beauty pageants have come a long way in being more diverse and inclusive, when it comes to race. Black women weren’t allowed to compete in the Miss America Pageant until the 1950s, but the pageant didn’t have its first black contestant until 1971. It’s why the Miss Black America Pageant (founded by the black entrepreneur J. Morris Anderson) launched in 1968.

“Subjects of Desire” mentions that 2018 was a historic year for black women in beauty pageants: For the first time in beauty pageant history, Miss Universe, Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA were all black females in the same year. However, the Miss Black America contestants interviewed in the documentary say that these breakthroughs don’t mean that they do not experience the same racist prejudices inside and outside the beauty pageant circuit.

Miss Black America 2018 winner Ryann Richardson says that she learned early on in her beauty pageant experiences to put on makeup that would tone down her African-looking ethnicity, such as contouring her nose to look thinner. She makes no apologies for it and explains: “It was a means to an end. I never believed that I needed to look that way to be beautiful, to be Ryann, to be great to be excellent. But I did it to win.”

Richardson acknowledges that even though some judges still might prefer black contestants to look as “white” as possible, black women in beauty pageants are now given more freedom to wear their hair in different ways, compared to the hair restrictions that black beauty contestants had to adhere to in previous generations. Richardson adds, “I am a product of what Miss Black America inspired [by launching] in 1968, so it’s really interesting and really cool to think that 50 years later … I could be part of that Miss Black America legacy.”

Other contestants from the Miss Black America 2018 pageant who are interviewed in the documentary are first runner-up Alex Germain and second runner-up Seraiah Nicole. Just like the other contestants interviewed in the documentary, they both say that the best way a contestant can approach being part of a beauty pageant isn’t to see who’s judged as more “beautiful” than others but to build confidence and appreciation for an individual’s unique qualities. A beauty pageant is supposed to be a learning experience on how contestants, whether they win or lose, want to present themselves to the world.

Germain reveals another motivation for her to enter the world of beauty pageants: “I needed to feel as though I mattered and my voice mattered.” She remembers experiencing racist bullying when she was a child, when some boys from her school lined up and made monkey noises at her.

Germain comments on these painful memories and any racism she still experiences: “I had to be strong in myself and let those voices go … There are times when it still gets to me. You have to be your biggest motivator.” She adds, “You see the shifts in the North American beauty standards, but on the backs of black women.”

Like it or not, perceptions of beauty also spill over into how people judge other people’s personalities and intelligence without even knowing them. For black women, the stereotyping goes back to slavery and is often perpetuated by images in the media and in entertainment. “Subjects of Beauty” mentions three main stereotypes of black women, with video clips and photos used as examples:

  • Mammy: Nurturing, subservient (usually to white people) and sometimes sassy. In entertainment and media portrayals, she is usually a maid, housekeeper, nanny or some other type of servant.
  • Jezebel: Sexually promiscuous, usually dressed in revealing clothing and obsessed with being perceived as sexy. In entertainment and media portrayals, she is often a singer, actress, model, stripper, prostitute or other sex worker.
  • Sapphire: Quick-tempered, usually hostile and often a bully. In entertainment and media portrayals, she is the “angry black woman.”

Dr. Carolyn West, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, comments on these stereotypical images that don’t apply to all black women: “The Mammy, Jezebel and Sapphire stereotypes are deeply rooted in history. They haven’t gone away. They’ve just changed and morphed into different stereotypes.”

In “Subjects of Desire,” it’s pointed out that the Mammy physical stereotype (as illustrated by the controversial Aunt Jemima logo) is historically inaccurate because photos from the slavery days show that the house servants who helped take care of the kids were usually young and thin, not middle-aged and overweight. “Subjects of Desire” director Holness wrote the script used in the movie’s voiceover narration, which mentions that the Aunt Jemima brand “wasn’t just selling pancakes. They were selling the Mammy fantasy.”

The voiceover continues: “The de-eroticization of Mammy meant the white wife and, by extension, the white family [were safe]. But in truth, the Mammy was re-imagined to hide an extensive history of sexual violence and rape against black women.” The Jezebel stereotype was created to justify this sexual violence. The documentary mentions that it wasn’t until 1959, with the Betty Jean Owens case in Florida, that white men in the U.S. were given life sentences for raping a black woman.

And the Sapphire stereotype comes with a whole other set of issues. If a black woman is confident and asserts herself in the same way that men are frequently allowed to do, she is labeled “difficult.” Men can yell and scream on the job, but if a black woman does the same thing, she’s labeled a “problem” and is more likely to be fired because of it.

Simply put: The “angry black woman” stereotype has worse repercussions than the “angry white man” stereotype. In the documentary, black actress/singer Jully Black recalls the heated debate that she and white TV journalist Jeanne Beker had during the 2018 Canada Reads event (which is televised in Canada) as an example. In a clip shown in the documentary, Beker was quick to try to label her as an angry black woman on the attack, even though Black was being calm, articulate and reasonable.

“Subjects of Desire” asserts that white women also benefit from white supremacy when it comes to what is considered “attractive” in American society. A woman’s physical appearance can determine how she’s perceived and how much agency she has in public settings. White women can cry on the job, but if a black woman does it, she’s more likely to be labeled “out of control” and “unprofessional.” Crimes against white females are given higher priorities in media coverage than crimes against non-white females. And there’s no need to rehash obvious statistics of how black women are rarely allowed to advance to the top levels of an organization.

And that’s why representation matters. When people see only one race dominating as the gatekeepers of an industry, it creates a vicious cycle of racism where people think other races are not capable of doing just as well or better than the dominant race. And when it comes to female beauty standards, the general consensus in “Subjects of Desire” is that there’s been some progress in racial representation in front of the camera, but not enough progress behind the camera with people who make the major business decisions.

Thompson comments, “There’s a quote by [American feminist] Peggy Phelan: ‘If representation equaled power, then white women should feel like the most powerful people in the world, because that is actually the [beauty] image you see the most. White women are everywhere.'”

India.Arie says, “We all feel insecure about something. We live in this world that tells us that somebody is perfect, and you’re not.” The documentary mentions the Black Girl Magic movement, created by CaShawn Thompson in 2013, as a big leap forward in celebrating black female beauty. Black Girl Magic includes mentorships and other programs intended to help black females embrace themselves for who they are and not believe the racist lies that people are superior or inferior because of skin color.

If there’s any takeaway from this documentary, it’s that real change can only come when people push for it and stop supporting the people and practices that demean one race in order to elevate another. Cosmetics, hairstyles, clothing and plastic surgery are all personal choices. However, they shouldn’t come at the expense of people feeling devalued because of their race.

Germain says in the documentary: “The eyelashes, the lipstick—that doesn’t mean anything. I think when people see a pretty girl, you think they don’t have issues. But when you don’t love yourself, you don’t love anything.” And that’s why self-respect and healthy self-care are probably the biggest beauty assets of all.

Review: ‘Miss Juneteenth,’ starring Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson and Alexis Chikaeze

January 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Nicole Beharie in “Miss Juneteenth” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Miss Juneteenth”

Directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples

Culture Representation: Taking place in Fort Worth, Texas, the drama “Miss Juneteenth” features a predominantly African American cast (with a few white people and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A former Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant winner, who has dead-end jobs and is struggling financially, pressures her reluctant teenage daughter to enter the same contest so that the daughter can have a chance to win college scholarship money.

Culture Audience: “Miss Juneteenth” will appeal to people who are interested in well-acted and realistic dramas about how people deal with regrets over some of their life choices.

Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze in “Miss Juneteenth” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Several reality TV shows about beauty pageants with underage girls as contestants have exposed what is common knowledge in the pageant world: These kiddie pageants really aren’t about the children. These pageants are about the adults who want to show off their children and get bragging rights and prize money if their kids win these contests.

The dramatic film “Miss Juneteenth” has a beauty pageant for teenage girls as the driving force behind much of the characters’ actions. But the movie goes deeper than just the superficial aspects of preparing for this contest. “Miss Juneteenth,” anchored by a standout performance by Nicole Beharie, is a story about a mother with broken dreams who’s living vicariously through her daughter to try to recapture those dreams and “do over” certain parts of her life.

In “Miss Juneteenth” (the feature-film debut of writer/director Channing Godfrey Peoples), Beharie portrays Turquoise Jones, who is floundering in all aspects of her life in her hometown of Forth Worth, Texas. Turquoise’s main job is working as a bartender at a dive bar called Wayman’s, named after its no-nonsense owner Wayman (played by Marcus M. Mauldin), who considers Turquoise to be his most reliable and trusteed employee. In the beginning of the film, it’s shown that Turquoise’s job at the bar also entails janitor duties and being the bar’s unofficial manager who keeps track of the business revenue.

As Turquoise cleans a toilet in one of the bar’s bathrooms, one of her co-workers named Betty Ray (played by Liz Mikel) watches her and comments: “I’ll never get over seeing Miss Juneteenth cleaning toilets … You practically running this bar.” Turquoise is good enough at her job as a bartender that it’s shown early on in the movie that she can make $800 in tips in one night.

Turquoise also occasionally works part-time as a mortuary assistant at Baker Funeral Home, where she prepares bodies for funerals by doing their makeup. Her mortuary boss, Bacon Baker (played by Akron Watson), whose family owns the business, is a bachelor who makes it clear that he’s attracted to Turquoise and is interested in dating her. Bacon doesn’t cross the line into blatant sexual harassment, and he’s respectful of Turquoise’s wishes to keep their relationship strictly platonic. In an early scene in the movie, Bacon tells Turquoise the bad news that business has been slow at the funeral home, so he’s going to have to reduce her work hours.

The timing couldn’t be worse for Turquoise, because she’s been preoccupied with having her teenage daughter Kai (played by Alexis Chikaeze) enter the upcoming Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant. The costs for the Miss Juneteenth pageant require a certain amount of money that Turquoise knows will break her household budget. Kai, who is 14 and turns 15 years old during the course of the story, is vivacious, intuitive and slightly rebellious.

Kai isn’t completely enthusiastic about the pageant, which is a contest that means more to Turquoise than it means to Kai. However, Kai goes along with what her mother wants because she wants to make her mother happy. As time goes on, Kai sees how much her mother is willing to sacrifice in order to get Kai in the pageant.

Turquoise wants Kai to win the contest because of the pageant’s grand prize: scholarship money to attend a historically black college or university. But Turquoise also has ulterior motives, which have more to do with herself than with Kai. Turquoise is a former Miss Juneteenth winner who didn’t live up to her expected potential. And although Turquoise never says it out loud, it becomes obvious that Turquoise wants to redeem herself, through her daughter Kai, in the Miss Juneteenth pageant.

It’s briefly explained in the movie what Juneteenth is, for people who don’t know the historical significance to African Americans. Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865: the date that African Americans in Texas found out that they were freed slaves—two years after the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal in the United States. Juneteenth is a reminder of the importance of people not only having civil rights but also knowing about civil rights and living it.

Turquoise was a Miss Juneteenth winner in 2004. What happened to her since then isn’t revealed all at once in the movie, but it’s spoken about in bits and pieces, in the way that people speak about things that they’re slightly ashamed of in their past. Turquoise was headed to college and was going to use the Miss Juneteenth scholarship money for her university tuition. But at some point, Turquoise got pregnant with Kai. Turquoise abandoned her college plans, and she married Kai’s father Ronnie (played by Kendrick Sampson), who ended up having a lot of personal struggles with menial jobs and an arrest record.

The marriage fell apart. Ronnie and Turquoise separated, but haven’t gone through with a divorce. It isn’t really made clear when Ronnie and Turquoise split up, but at some point, he became a deadbeat dad. Out of financial desperation, Turquoise became a stripper—something she’s not proud of, but she doesn’t deny it when other people remind her or when Kai finds out in a humiliating way.

Turquoise’s on-again/off-again relationship with Ronnie is complicated, because she and Ronnie have recently begun sleeping together again, but they are still living in separate homes. Kai notices that her father has been sleeping over in Turquoise’s bedroom, and eventually Turquoise and Ronnie let it be known that they might be getting back together permanently. Turquoise wants to take things slow, because it’s implied that Ronnie did a lot of things in the past to emotionally hurt her, and she’s gradually giving him a chance to earn back her trust.

Ronnie currently works as a mechanic and seems to be trying to get his life back on track. In in an early scene in the movie, he promises Turquoise that he’s going to “do right” by her and Kai this time. When Ronnie finds out that Turquoise wants Kai to be in the Miss Juneteenth pageant, he doesn’t hesitate to give Turquoise some cash to help out with the expenses.

Turquoise appreciates Ronnie’s generosity, but the money that she gets from Ronnie isn’t enough to cover all the pageant costs. Turquoise’s level of obsession with the Miss Juneteenth pageant becomes very apparent when she has a choice of paying her house’s electricity bill (which is already overdue) or paying the pageant entry fee. Turquoise is also adamant that Kai should have a “fancy” new dress from one of the top boutiques in the area, not a previously owned dress or a dress from a discount store.

Turquoise chooses not to pay the electricity bill, in order to pay the pageant entry fee. And the house’s electricity is turned off on (of all days) Kai’s 15th birthday. Kai is upset, but Turquoise tries to put a positive spin on this turn of events and assures Kai that their lack of electricity is only temporary. Later in the movie, Turquoise runs into other financial problems that affect her ability to pay for certain things.

Why is Turquoise so fixated on this pageant? What is she trying to prove? As the story goes on, it becomes apparent that she’s having an early mid-life crisis. Turquoise is regretting a lot of decisions that she made her teens and 20s, and she feeling that she’s disappointed herself and others who had high hopes for Turquoise. The Miss Juneteenth pageant and the scholarship money that she won represented Turquoise’s ticket to a better life. And now, she feels like she really blew it.

And to make it worse for Turquoise, she’s still stuck in her hometown, where she feels like too many people know how much of a “failure” she turned out to be. She’s reminded of it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. For example, when Turquoise and Kai go to a sign-up table to enter the Miss Juneteenth Pageant, Turquoise encounters a snooty woman named Clarissa (played by Lisha Hackney), who is on the pageant committee but who isn’t a judge.

Clarissa makes a snide comment that if Kai wins, hopefully Kai will actually be able to use the scholarship prize. There’s obvious tension between Turquoise and Clarissa. And so, it comes as no surprise when Turquoise tells Kai that Clarissa was in the same 2004 Miss Juneteenth Pageant that Turquoise won. It seems that Clarissa still holds a grudge over losing, but Clarissa is getting gloating satisfaction over seeing Turquoise not living up to her expected potential.

The current pageant contestants and some of their parents are given a tour of the Miss Juneteenth headquarters, which has a room with photos of past Miss Juneteenth winners. Turquoise’s picture is on the wall, but she doesn’t get mentioned during the tour. The tour guide points out some notable former Miss Juneteenth winners whom the organization seems to be the most proud of: a civil rights activist, a surgeon and a congressman’s wife. By saying that being a congressman’s wife is an example of being an accomplished former Miss Juneteenth, it shows an old-fashioned mindset that a woman is considered “accomplished” based on who she marries, not her own individual achievements.

It’s this underlying conservatism in the pageant that Turquoise is acutely aware of when she pressures Kai to make a certain choice in the talent segment of the pageant. Kai wants to do a hip-hop dance routine. Turquoise says that it’s a bad idea because she thinks that hip-hop isn’t dignified enough for Kai or the pageant. Instead, Turquoise insists that Kai recite the Maya Angelou poem “Phenomenal Woman.”

The arguments that Turquoise and Kai have over what Kai wants to do to express her talent have less to do with a generation gap and more to do with the image that Turquoise wants Kai to project. Almost all of Turquoise’s decisions for Kai in the pageant are about making Kai look like she’s in a higher social class than she really is. Turquoise knows putting on these false airs is a charade, since there are too many people involved in the pageant who know that Kai comes from a working-class household. However, Turquoise still forges ahead with the hope that Kai will be judged as a “classier” person than the type of person Turquoise has been judged to be.

The intergenerational conflicts in the Jones family isn’t just about Turquoise and Kai. Turquoise has major issues with her own mother Charlotte (played by Lori Hayes), who is a devout, churchgoing Christian but who has a past as an alcoholic and neglectful mother. Turquoise and Charlotte have a very strained relationship, and they’re not in contact with each other very much.

Charlotte disapproves of how Turquoise’s life has turned out, and Charlotte thinks that Turquoise’s life would improve if Turquoise went to church on a regular basis. Charlotte also disapproves of Turquoise working in a bar. Turquoise is not religious and wants no part of Charlotte’s Bible-thumping lifestyle.

Turquoise also feels lingering resentment toward Charlotte because Turquoise had a dysfunctional and unhappy childhood due to Charlotte’s alcoholism. There are hints that Charlotte was emotionally and verbally abusive to Turquoise. It’s shown in the story that because Turquoise and Charlotte both haven’t completely conquered certain demons from their past, it’s caused them to distrust each other and made it hard for them to respect each other.

And it’s why Charlotte is skeptical about Turquoise’s goal to have Kai win the Miss Juneteenth pageant, which Charlotte calls “pipe dreams.” Charlotte believes that Turquoise has set a bad example for Kai because Turquoise squandered the opportunities that Turquoise got from winning the Miss Juneteenth pageant. This disappointment has created an oppressive circle of shame where Charlotte makes Turquoise feel bad about these wasted opportunities, while Turquoise feels enough remorse about herself and tries to prevent Charlotte from making her feel worse.

The greatest strength of “Miss Juneteenth” is how authentically the movie portrays a specific part of African American culture, without being pandering or exploitative. The movie also goes beyond race to show how Americans’ self-esteem is often wrapped up in the idea that someone is a “failure” if that person hasn’t achieved the American Dream, whatever the definition of the American Dream is. The world of child/teen beauty pageants in the U.S. represents a small slice of wanting to achieve the American Dream. And it’s why many working-class families (usually mothers), just like Turquoise, spend a lot of money they can’t afford to have their daughters in these pageants.

“Miss Juneteenth” is also a poignant story about the sometimes-uncomfortable process of reconciling a young person’s dreams with the reality of how that person’s life turned out when that person isn’t so young anymore. Turquoise wants to be more than the stereotype of a financially struggling African American mother who’s the only head of her household, but she’s also feeling shame that her life in many ways has become that stereotype. Turquoise doesn’t want Kai to make the same mistakes, but Turquoise also wants to use Kai (and the hope that Kai will win the Miss Juneteenth pageant) as “proof” that Turquoise did something right with her life after all.

With the skilled and naturalistic direction and writing of Godfrey Peoples, “Miss Juneteenth” is a convincing depiction of complicated people who don’t seem like characters only created for a movie but more like characters who accurately represent a lot of people in America today. Beharie gives a captivating performance as the flawed but industrious Turquoise, who knows she’s not perfect, but is doing her best to improve her life. This determined mother sees her daughter winning the Miss Juneteenth pageant as the answer to her own immediate problems without necessarily understanding that the pageant can’t really fix her life in the way it needs to be fixed. Above all, the movie is a worthwhile inspiration for showing that chasing after what you don’t have shouldn’t come at the expense of appreciating what you do have.

Vertical Entertainment released “Miss Juneteenth” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 19, 2020.

Review: ‘Misbehaviour,’ starring Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Greg Kinnear, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans and Keeley Hawes

September 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Keira Knightley (second from left) and Jessie Buckley (center) in “Misbehaviour” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Factory)

“Misbehaviour”

Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in London in 1970, the dramatic film “Misbehaviour” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A group of young British feminists stage protests against the Miss World pageant for exploiting the female contestants. 

Culture Audience: “Misbehaviour” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about the feminist movement in the 1970s.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (front row center) in “Misbehaviour” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Factory)

If misbehaving means disrupting and not always being polite, then activists will always be labeled as “misbehaving” by people who want to keep the status quo, even if the status quo is oppressing other people. The people who aren’t afraid to protest and “disrupt” are the heroes of “Misbehaviour,” which takes place in London in 1970, at the beginning of the decade’s women’s rights movement. “Misbehaviour” has many familiar hallmarks of movies that are based on true stories of people who fight against the system. However, the film rises above mediocrity, thanks in large part to well-paced direction and a very talented cast.

The main character of “Misbehaviour” is Sally Alexander (played by Keira Knightley), who evolves from being an introverted college student to a passionate leader of a protest movement. Although Sally’s perspective is the driving force of the movie, in many ways, “Misbehaviour” (directed by Philippa Lowthorpe) tells parallel stories of the lives of the feminists and the lives of women in the story who want more traditional lives for themselves.

In the beginning of “Misbehaviour” (written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe), Sally is nervously waiting at the University College London, where she is interviewed by an all-male panel of admissions administrators for a graduate program. Her interview is cleverly intercut with scenes of legendary comedian/actor Bob Hope (played with equal parts sleaze and style by Greg Kinnear) hosting an outdoor show for American and British military men in Vietnam.

As Sally lists her accomplishments to explain why she should be admitted into the university, the movie cuts back and forth to Hope introducing Miss World 1969, Eva Rueber-Staier of Austria (played by Kajsa Mohammar), to a leering and cheering audience of soldiers. While Sally hopes to be judged on her intelligence, Eva is paraded on stage as someone who is there just to be judged as a sex symbol to the audience. It’s a scene that has both contrasts and similarities.

Although Sally and Eva are both in their 20s, they both want different things in their lives. One woman has entered a competitive situation (college admissions) where her mind is valued, while the other has entered a competitive situation (a beauty pageant) where her body is valued. What these two scenarios have in common is that men are running the show, calling the shots and determining who gets to be rewarded.

Even during Sally’s interview, she is judged on her physical appearance, as two of the admissions officers scribble on their notepads and show each other what they think of Sally’s looks on a scale of one to 10. Who really knows if this happened in real life? The point is that even on a college admissions panel, a woman can be judged by how “appealing” she looks in ways that men are not judged.

In the college admissions interview, Sally is asked to give a summary of her life up until that point. She says that she left school at 15, but she ended up completing her undergraduate degree at Rustin College. She enrolled in drama school, only because her mother thought it sounded better than going to secretarial school. Sally says that she wasn’t very good at acting, partly because she dislikes it when people look at her.

Sally also tells the panel that she’s divorced with a 6-year-old daughter. Her marital and parenting status raises some eyebrows of the men on the panel. One of them comments to Sally, “You have a child, Ms. Alexander. Studying here is a big commitment.”

Sally then replies that she completed her undergraduate degree while her daughter was a baby. Sally adds, “The man I live with shares child care.” And that raises even more eyebrows with the men on the panel, since unmarried couples living together is considered taboo by many conservative people, especially in previous decades such as the 1970s.

Two months later, Sally is at home with her live-in boyfriend Gareth (played by John Heffernan); her daughter Abi (played by Maya Kelly); and Sally’s widowed mother Evelyn (played by Phyllis Logan). Sally thinks that she bombed in her University College London interview and expects to get bad news that the university has rejected her. Sally’s pessimism turns to enthusiasm when she gets a letter in the mail informing her that she has been admitted into the university, where she will be studying history.

Gareth is a very supportive boyfriend who does things like cook for the family. Evelyn, who has very traditional views of gender roles, thinks that it’s emasculating for Gareth to cook meals and shop for groceries. Many people might consider Gareth a “beta male” because he’s very happy to let other people, like Sally, be more dominant in his presence. Evelyn isn’t shy about telling her opinions to Sally, who often dismisses them as old-fashioned and sexist.

It’s hinted at but not stated outright that Sally was unhappy in her marriage because she felt oppressed by her ex-husband, who is not seen or heard in this movie. Whatever caused her feminist awakening, Sally is now appalled at beauty pageants that Evelyn and Abi like to watch on television. It bothers Sally so much that she will turn off the television if she’s in the same room while they’re watching a pageant. And she objects when Evelyn plays “pageant dress-up” with Abi.

Evelyn expresses dismay that Sally is against beauty pageants, which Sally feels are “degrading” and “sexist” events that exploit women and treat them as human cattle. Evelyn reminds Sally that Sally used to love watching pageants when Sally was a child. Sally responds by saying that she used to eat her own snot as a child too.

Meanwhile, a feminist from a working-class background is seen spray painting this slogan on a billboard: “Down With Penis Envy.” Her name is Jo Robinson (played by Jessie Buckley), and she’s seen doing this kind of graffiti mischief several times in the movie. In one scene, Sally catches her in the act and tells her to stop because some police officers are nearby.

Sure enough, the police see Sally and Jo and the graffiti and chase after them, but Sally and Jo are able to dodge them by hiding in an alley. (It’s a very stereotypical chase scene.) Sally and Jo get to talking and find out that they’re both feminists, but they have very different attitudes about achieving their feminist goals.

Sally is more about being organized and doing things by-the-book. Jo (who is a former art student) is more radical and prefers anarchist ways that would involve breaking the law. Jo tells Sally, “I don’t really do organized.” Sally tells Jo, “I don’t really do illegal.” When Jo invites Sally to her weekly feminist meeting that week, Jo politely declines because she says that she will be busy helping women who work as cleaning ladies to join a union.

But it should come as no surprise that Sally does eventually go to one of Jo’s meetings. They have ongoing disagreements, but they eventually find common ground and are able to work together for the same cause. Eventually, Sally, Jo and the other women in the group decide to stage protests against the 1970 Miss World Pageant.

“Misbehaviour” also takes a look at the major players behind this particular pageant. Married couple Eric Morley (played by Rhys Ifans) and Julia Morley (played by Keeley Hawes) are Brits who own the annual Miss World Pageant, which began in 1951, and by the early 1970s could attract a worldwide TV audience of more than 100 million people. (Eric died in 2000. Julia Morley is still head of the Miss World Pageant.)

The way the Morleys are portrayed in “Misbehaviour,” Eric is the forceful leader, while Julia is the opinionated follower. Eric is an egotistical TV host who isn’t shy about expressing his sexist views of women. He thinks that the contestants’ physical appearances are the only things that really matter in deciding who will win. And he openly makes crude comments about contestants’ body parts. Julia strongly believes that contestants’ personalities should have equal standing in how they are judged in the pageant.

There’s a subplot in the movie about Hollywood comedian/actor Bob Hope, who is portrayed as a serial cheater on his long-suffering wife Dolores Hope (played by Lesley Manville), who knows about his infidelity and openly talks about it to Bob, who tries his charm his way of it. Dolores also talks about the infidelity to Bob’s young lackey Laurence (played by Samuel Blenkin), who helps write Bob’s jokes. Laurence listens sympathetically, but it’s clear that he’s uncomfortable with this type of conversation and will always side with Bob.

Bob has recently hired an eager, young female personal assistant named Joan Billings (played by Eileen O’Higgins), who takes a call from the Morleys, who have asked Bob to host the Miss World Pageant. Bob says yes. It’s implied, but not shown, that Bob will eventually sexually harass Joan, based on how Bob ogles her and sizes her up on her first day on the job.

The Miss World Pageant is a sore spot for Dolores, since Bob had a torrid affair with one of the contestants the last time he hosted the show about 10 years prior. The mistress ended up moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, because Bob promised to help her become an actress, but her affair with Bob eventually fizzled. Dolores is understandably not thrilled that Bob will be hosting the Miss World Pageant again.

And within the behind-the-scenes drama of the Miss World Pageant is Eric Morley’s attempt to deal with the increasing criticism that the pageant is getting because no woman of color has been a winner at the pageant yet. In order to deflect the accusations of racism, he decides to let South Africa (then under apartheid rule) send a black contestant, who is hastily given the title Miss Africa South, because Miss South Africa (who is white) has already been chosen.

And the Miss World Pageant’s nine-person judging panel that year also attempted to diversify. Most of the judges were still white men, including American singer Glen Campbell. But there were some women and people of color who were judges that year, such as British actress Joan Collins, Danish singer/actress Nina, Roesmin Nurjadin (who was ambassador of Indonesia to Great Britain) and Eric Gairy, who was the first prime minister of Grenada.

The four Miss World contestants who get the most screen time and dialogue in the movie are Miss Grenada Jennifer Hosten (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who would become the first woman of color to win the Miss World title; Miss Africa South Pearl Jansen (played by Loreece Harrison), who has an immediate bond with Jennifer; Miss United States Sandra Wolsfeld (played by Suki Waterhouse), who likes being the center of attention; and Miss Sweden Maj Johansson (played by Clara Rosager), who was widely predicted as the top contender going into the pageant. Miss South Africa Jillian Jessup (played by Emma Corrin) is essentially a cameo in the movie.

In addition to the issues of gender discrimination and feminism that are at the forefront of the movie, “Misbehaviour” addresses racism and “white privilege” in beauty pageants. In one scene, Miss Sweden complains to Miss Grenada about how she’s not used to people ordering her around the way that the Miss World pageant officials order the contestants around. Miss Grenada replies, “You’re lucky if you think this is being treated badly.”

In another scene, Miss Africa South almost breaks down and cries when she tells Miss Grenada that she was told by her country’s government to be careful about what she says to other contestants and the media. She says that the government threatened to revoke her passport if she said the wrong things and she wouldn’t be allowed back into South Africa, where her entire family is. The implication is that because she is the first black contestant representing South Africa in the Miss World contestant, she better not speak out against apartheid.

However, the pageant contestants are really supporting characters to the feminists in the movie. There are a few scenes where the feminists tell people that they are not protesting against the contestants but are protesting against a very patriarchal system of pageantry that reduces women’s value to their scantily clad body parts. Their protests leading up to the pageant get a lot of media attention, and Sally finds herself reluctantly and then willingly becoming the spokesperson for the group.

Pageants realistically won’t be banned, but the protesters want less exploitation of women’s bodies and more emphasis on viewing the contestants as well-rounded people. Easier said than done. Because there has to be some suspense in a movie like this, the last third of the movie involves Sally and the rest of the feminists hatching a plot to infiltrate audience at the Miss World Pageant ceremony and disrupting the show on live television.

“Misbehaviour” is not an Oscar-worthy film because there’s not much originality in how this story is told. However, Knightley, Buckley, Mbatha-Raw, Kinnear and Manville all do very good performances in their roles. The vibrant costume design and production design for the movie are also admirably on point.

And even though “Misbehaviour” has multiple storylines going on—the feminist group, the beauty pageant, Bob Hope’s marriage problems, Sally’s clashes with her mother—it doesn’t feel overstuffed, because the screenplay ties them all together cohesively. If people are in the mood for a feel-good feminist drama and more insight into the 1970 Miss World Pageant controversies, then “Misbehaviour” strikes the right balance of being entertaining and informative.

Shout! Factory released “Misbehaviour” on digital and VOD on September 25, 2020.

2020 Miss America Competition: Miss Virginia Camille Schrier crowned the winner

December 19, 2019

Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier
Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, December 19, 2019 (Photo by Eric Liebowitz/NBC)

The following is a press release from NBC:

Miss Virginia, Camille Schrier, was crowned Miss America 2020 live on NBC at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, on December 19, 2019. The Miss America competition, which returned to NBC this year, was broadcast on NBC and live-streamed on NBC.com in a two-hour live special.

The 99th Miss America Competition was co-hosted by Kit Hoover And Mario Lopez from “Access Hollywood.” “Superstore” co-star Lauren Ash, “Queer Eye” culture expert Karamo and singer/songwriter/actress Kelly Rowland served as judges for the broadcast.

As Miss America 2020, Camille Schrier earns a six-figure salary as she travels across the country for her year of service. She will use her national platform advocating for drug safety as an opportunity to inspire others and impact lives. Camille Schrier is a graduate of Virginia Tech where she majored in biochemistry and systems biology, she is currently studying to obtain a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree. Along with the coveted title of Miss America 2020, Camille won a $50,000 scholarship to continue her education. Through her social impact initiative, Mind Your Meds: Drug Safety and Abuse Prevention from Pediatrics to Geriatrics, she will educate the public on drug safety and abuse prevention. For the talent portion of the competition, Camille performed a chemistry demonstration.

First runner up in the competition was Miss Georgia Victoria Hill, who earned a $25,000 scholarship.

The show was executive produced by John Irwin, whose Irwin Entertainment is producing the new NBC late night show “A Little Late With Lilly Singh.” His credentials include stand-up specials for Adam Sandler, John Mulaney, Norm MacDonald and Nikki Glaser as well as “Red Nose Day,” “NBC’s New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly” and “Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks.”

The show was led by a female director, Emmy Award-nominated Sandra Restrepo, who has directed a multitude of live shows, including the first live televised musical performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway sensation “Hamilton,” the Radio Disney Music Awards and MTV’s live music series “Wonderland.” Restrepo also served as the show director on over 250 episodes of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

Also joining the Miss America 2020 production team was Meredith McGinn as co-executive producer. McGinn is the Senior Vice President of NBC-owned COZI TV, news brand LX and LX.TV, an award-winning production company that produces weekly lifestyle programs in addition to live specials and red-carpet specials such as the Golden Globes, Emmy Awards and Rose Parade.

Other leading names behind the scenes include Tim Bock as co-executive producer, lighting design by Oscar Dominguez of “The Voice,” production design by Joe Stewart and writer Jon Macks, whose previous credits include the Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmy Awards.

“Saturday Night Live” choreographer Danielle Flora also joined the production team to enhance the show’s new format.

Join the #MissAmerica conversation on social media at Facebook.com/MissAmerica; Twitter @MissAmericaOrg; Instagram @MissAmerica; and YouTube.com/MissAmericaOrg.

 

Final results Contestant(s)
Miss America 2020
  • Virginia VirginiaCamille Schrier
1st runner-up
  • Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia – Victoria Hill
2nd runner-up
  • Missouri Missouri – Simone Esters
3rd runner-up
  • Oklahoma Oklahoma – Addison Price
4th runner-up
  • Connecticut Connecticut – Jillian Duffy
Top 7
  • Alabama Alabama – Tiara Pennington
  • Colorado Colorado – Monica Thompson
Top 15
  • California California – Eileen Kim
  • Florida Florida – Michaela McLean
  • Hawaii Hawaii – Nicole Holbrook
  • Kansas Kansas – Annika Wooton
  • New Jersey New Jersey – Jade Glab
  • New York (state) New York – Lauren Molella
  • North Carolina North Carolina – Alexandra Badgett
  • Texas Texas – Chandler Foreman

2019 Miss Universe Pageant: Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi crowned the winner

December 8, 2019

by Yvette Thomas

 Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi is crowned Miss Universe at the 2019 Miss Universe competition in Atlanta. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Fox)

Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi  was crowned Miss Universe 2019, in a ceremony that took place December 8 at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. Fox had the U.S. telecast of the show, which was hosted by Steve Harvey. Former beauty-pageant queens Olivia Culpo and Vanessa Lachey provided commentary, while Ally Brooke (of Fifth Harmony fame) was the show’s musical performer. The annual Miss Universe ceremony (now in its 68th year) is produced by the Miss Universe Organization.

The new Mouawad Power of Unity crown made its debut at the ceremony this year. According to Mouwad,  the crown was created with 18-karat gold and handset with more than 1,770 white diamonds and three golden canary diamonds. The crown’s centerpiece is a shield-cut golden canary 62.83 carat diamond.

Contestants from 90 countries and territories were at the pageant, including Swe Zin Htet of Myanmar, who was the first openly lesbian contestant to compete for the Miss Universe title. Ultimately, she did not place in the Top 20. Bangladesh and Equatorial Guinea made their Miss Universe debuts this year.

The all-female panel of Miss Universe 2019 judges were:

  • Gaby Espino, Venezuelan actress
  • Sazan Hendrix, American businesswoman and social media personality
  • Riyo Mori. Miss Universe 2007 from Japan
  • Cara Mund, Miss America 2018[39]
  • Bozoma Saint John, American businesswoman and marketing executive
  • Crystle Stewart, American actress and Miss USA 2008
  • Paulina Vega, Miss Universe 2014 from Colombia
  • Olivia Jordan (only as preliminary judge). American actress, model, and Miss USA 2015

Internet voting from the public returned after a two-year absence. The public Internet voting was for the contestants who placed in the Top 20.

Here are the Top 20 contestants of the 2018 Miss Universe pageant:

Zozibini Tunzi, Miss South Africa — Winner
Madison Anderson, Miss Puerto Rico — First runner-up
Sofía Aragón, Miss Mexico — Second runner-up
Gabriela Tafur, Miss Colombia — Top 5
Paweensuda Drouin, Miss Thailand— Top 5
Maëva Coucke, Miss France — Top 10
Birta Abiba Þórhallsdóttir, Miss Iceland — Top 10
Frederika Alexis Cull, Miss Indoensia — Top 10
Kelin Rivera, Miss Peru— Top 10
Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA — Top 10
Cindy Marina, Miss Albania — Top 20
Júlia Horta, Miss Brazil — Top 20
Mia Rkman, Miss Croatia — Top 20
Clauvid Dály, Miss Dominican Republic — Top 20
Vartika Singh, Miss India — Top 20
Olutosin Araromi, Miss Nigeria — Top 20
Gazini Ganados, Miss Philippines — Top 20
Sylvie Silva, Miss Portugal — Top 20
Thalía Olvino, Miss Venezuela — Top 20
Hoàng Thùy, Miss Vietnam — Top 20

2019 Miss USA: Miss North Carolina USA Chelsie Kryst crowned the winner

May 2, 2019

Miss USA logo

Miss USA Chelsie Kryst at the 2019 Miss USA Pageant at Grand Sierra Resort and Casino’s Grand Theatre in Reno, Nevada, on May 2, 2019. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Fox)

The following is a press release from the Miss Universe Organization:

Cheslie Kryst from North Carolina was crowned the new Miss USA in front of a worldwide audience at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino’s Grand Theatre in Reno, Nevada. The two-hour special programming event aired live on Fox on May 2, 2019.

Cheslie is a full time complex litigation attorney who is licensed to practice law in two states. She earned both her law degree and MBA from Wake Forest University and graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from the Honors College at the University of South Carolina. The 28-year-old is a former Division I athlete, having competed in the heptathlon, long jump and triple jump on South Carolina’s track and field team. The Charlotte native runs a fashion blog, “White Collar Glam,” that focuses on work wear fashion for women and is an active volunteer for Dress for Success.

The all-women selection committee panel was made up of entrepreneurs, business leaders, industry experts, and former pageant titleholders. They oversaw both the preliminary and final rounds, a new format that has allowed the panel to better understand what each contestant wants to pursue both personally and professionally.

Actress, host and former pageant winner Vanessa Lachey and multi-Platinum recording artist and television personality Nick Lachey returned as hosts for the annual event. Supermodel and pageant expert Lu Sierra provided analysis and commentary throughout the live telecast.  Grammy® award winning singer, songwriter and producer T-Pain performed and along with his hosting duties, the show included a very special performance from Nick Lachey.

Throughout the show, contestants participated in swimsuit, evening gown, final question and final word. During the Top 5 final question round, the women were asked questions formed from their fellow contestants.

The event concluded with Miss USA 2018 Sarah Rose Summers crowning Cheslie Kryst her successor, chosen from representatives of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Cheslie will go on to represent the USA in the MISS UNIVERSE® pageant later this year.

Final Results: Miss North Carolina USA Cheslie Kryst crowned Miss USA

First Runner-Up: Miss New Mexico USA Alejandra Gonzalez

Second Runner-Up: Miss Oklahoma USA Triana Browne

Top Three: Miss New Mexico USA Alejandra Gonzalez; Miss North Carolina USA Cheslie Kryst; Miss Oklahoma USA Triana Browne

Top Five: Miss New Mexico USA Alejandra Gonzalez; Miss North Carolina USA Cheslie Kryst; Miss Nevada USA Tianna Tuamoheloa; Miss Oklahoma USA Triana Browne; Miss Arkansas USA Savannah Skidmore

Top Ten: Miss Arkansas USA Savannah Skidmore; Miss Ohio USA Alice Magoto; Miss Kansas USA Alyssa Klinzing; Miss North Carolina USA Cheslie Kryst; Miss District of Columbia USA Cordelia Cranshaw; Miss New Mexico USA Alejandra Gonzalez; Miss Maryland USA Mariela Pepin; Miss Florida USA Nicolette Jennings; Miss Nevada USA Tianna Tuamoheloa; Miss Oklahoma USA Triana Browne

Top Fifteen: Miss Florida USA Nicolette Jennings; Miss New Mexico USA Alejandra Gonzalez; Miss Arkansas USA Savannah Skidmore; Miss Ohio USA Alice Magoto; Miss Oklahoma USA Triana Browne; Miss Iowa USA Baylee Drezek; Miss Minnesota USA Cat Stanley; Miss District of Columbia USA Cordelia Cranshaw; Miss Louisiana USA Victoria Paul; Miss North Carolina USA Cheslie Kryst; Miss Kansas USA Alyssa Klinzing; Miss Pennsylvania USA Kailyn Marie Perez; Miss Maryland USA Mariela Pepin; Miss Hawaii USA Lacie Choy; Miss Nevada USA Tianna Tuamoheloa

MISS USA® was made possible with the support of Reno Tahoe, Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, Nevada Division of Tourism, CHI Haircare, Sherri Hill, Lauren Lorraine, Victoria Duke Beauty, and Sinesia Karol.

The Miss Universe Organization
The Miss Universe Organization (MUO) is a global community that empowers women to realize their goals through experiences that build self-confidence and create opportunities for success.  MUO believes that every woman should be “Confidently Beautiful.” MISS UNIVERSE®, MISS USA® and MISS TEEN USA® programs provide the 10,000 women who participate annually an international platform to affect positive change through influential humanitarian and professional efforts. The contestants and titleholders are leaders and role models in their communities, develop personal and professional goals, and inspire others to do the same. The Miss Universe Organization is an Endeavor company. To learn more, visit www.missuniverse.com.

About Endeavor
Endeavor, is a global leader in sports, entertainment and fashion operating in more than 30 countries. Named one of Fortune’s 25 Most Important Private Companies, Endeavor is the parent of a number of subsidiaries with leadership positions in their respective industries, including WME, IMG and UFC. Collectively, Endeavor specializes in talent representation and management; brand strategy, activation and licensing; media sales and distribution; and event management.

For more information, visit www.missusa.com and www.missuniverse.com. Follow Miss USA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

2019 Miss USA: Nick Lachey, T-Pain announced as performers

April 25, 2019

The following is a press release from Fox:

As previously announced, Vanessa and Nick Lachey return to host the event taking place inside Grand Sierra Resort and Casino’s (GSR) Grand Theatre, located in Reno Tahoe.  Season One winner of FOX’s THE MASKED SINGER and Cinematic Music Group’s T-Pain will take the Miss USA stage to perform during the two-hour special programming event and, along with his hosting duties, the show will include a very special performance from Nick Lachey. The 2019 MISS USA® airs Thursday, May 2 (8:00-10:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed) on FOX.

Supermodel and pageant expert Lu Sierra returns as a competition insider to provide analysis and commentary throughout the live telecast.

Additionally, the MISS USA® selection committee will be comprised of an all-female panel that will help select the winner, while overseeing both the preliminary and final rounds. This new format has allowed the selection committee to understand what each contestant wants to pursue both personally and professionally.

The women who will determine the next Miss USA include:

  • Hillary Schieve: Entrepreneur and Mayor, City of Reno, NV.
  • Ukonwa Ojo: Former Chief Marketing Officer of COVERGIRL, recognized with over 50 honors and awards, including Business Insider’s Most Innovative CMOs list, Marketing Magazine’s Power 100 List and Financial Time’s Upstanding Top 100 Ethnic-Minority Executives.
  • Amy Palmer: Founder and CEO, PowerwomenTV; Emmy-nominated TV host, Chief Content Officer and Executive Producer
  • Nicole Feld: Executive Vice President of Feld Entertainment, the worldwide leader in producing and presenting live family entertainment experiences.
  • Kim Kaupe: CEO and co-founder of The Superfan Company, hailed as a Top 30 Startup to Watch by Entrepreneur; named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30, Advertising Age’s 40 Under 40 and Inc.’s 35 Under 35 list.
  • Pat Smith: Entrepreneur, philanthropist and Miss Virginia USA 1994.
  • Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters: Miss Universe 2017 of South Africa; IMG Model; founder of women’s empowerment program, “Unbreakable.”
  • Denise Quinones: Miss Universe 2001 of Puerto Rico, actress, singer and pageant expert.

Women representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia will compete for the opportunity of becoming the next Miss USA. The FOX broadcast concludes with Miss USA 2018 Sarah Rose Summers crowning her successor. To learn more about this year’s contestants, please visit: www.missusa.com/contestants.

Find MISS USA® on Facebook and YouTube, and follow on Twitter and Instagram.

2018 Miss Universe Pageant: Miss Philippines Catriona Gray crowned the winner

December 16, 2018

by Yvette Thomas

Catriona Gra
Catriona Gray, Miss Universe 2018 (Photo courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization)

Miss Philippines Catriona Gray was crowned Miss Universe 2018, in a ceremony that took place December 16 at IMPACT Arena, Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi Province, Thailand. Fox had the U.S. telecast of the show, which was hosted by Steve Harvey with Ashley Graham. Carson Kressley and Lu Sierra provided commentary, while Ne-Yo was the show’s musical performer. The annual Miss Universe ceremony is produced by the Miss Universe Organization. The show’s theme this year was “Empowered.”

Contestants from 94 countries and territories were at the pageant, including Spain’s Angela Ponce, who made history for being the first transgender contestant in the Miss Universe pageant. Ultimately, Ponce did not place in the Top 20.

Catriona Gray
Miss Philippines Catriona Gray (left) is crowned 2018 Miss Universe by former Miss Universe Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters during the 2018 Miss Universe competition in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 16, 2018 (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Fox)

According to a Miss Universe Organization press release: “Catriona Gray is passionate about the arts and previously received her Master Certificate in Music Theory from Berklee College of Music. She works closely with Young Focus Philippines, an education based NGO that provides free education and school sponsorships for children in Tondo Manila, one of the poorest neighborhoods within the country’s capital city. Additionally, [she] is an advocate for HIV/AIDS education and prevention after losing a close friend to the virus. She supports Love Yourself Philippines, an organization that offers free testing, education and treatment to those living with HIV/AIDS, and now as Miss Universe, plans to bring more awareness to the epidemic.”

The press release added, “For the first time in the competition’s history, the finalists had the opportunity to share a personal statement summarizing what they wanted the world to know about them. Topics ranged from female health care, the environment, ethnic minorities, body positivity, and cultural diversities. The first-ever all-women selection committee panel was made up of entrepreneurs, business leaders, industry experts, and former Miss Universe titleholders … Miss Universe Laos On-anong Homsombath was honored as the winner of the National Costume Show and shared about her costume, the Stream of Generosity, a half-human, half-bird spiritual creature in traditional Laos’ folklore.”

Here are the Top 20 contestants of the 2018 Miss Universe pageant:

Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines — Winner
Tamaryn Green, Miss South Africa — First runner-up
Sthefany Gutiérrez, Miss Venezuela — Second runner-up
Kiara Ortega, Miss Puerto Rico — Top 5
H’Hen Niê, Miss Vietnam — Top 5
Marta Stepien, Miss Canada — Top 10
Natalia Carvajal, Miss Costa Rica — Top 10
Akisha Albert, Miss Curaçao — Top 10
Manita Devkota, Miss Nepal — Top 10
Sophida Kanchanarin, Miss Thailand — Top 10
Francesca Hung, Miss Australia — Top 20
Zoe Brunet, Miss Belgium — Top 20
Mayra Dias, Miss Brazil — Top 20
Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers, Miss Great Britain — Top 20
Enikő Kecskès, Miss Hungary — Top 20
Sonia Fergina Citra, Miss Indonesia — Top 20
Grainne Gallanagh, Miss Ireland — Top 20
Emily Maddison, Miss Jamaica — Top 20
Magdalena Swat, Miss Poland — Top 20
Sarah Rose Summers, Miss United States — Top 20

2019 Miss America Competition: Miss New York Nia Imani Franklin crowned the winner

September 9, 2018

by Yvette Thomas

Miss America 2019 Nia Amani Franklin
Miss America 2019 Nia Imani Franklin (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Miss New York title holder Nia Imani Franklin, 25, was crowned Miss America 2019 at the Miss America Competition that took place at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on September 9, 2018. “Dancing With the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba and media personality Ross Matthews hosted the show, which was televised in the U.S. on ABC. The grand prize is $50,000 in scholarship money, with the requirement of numerous personal appearances and other commitments as Miss America during her the year of her reign.

The judges were boxer Laila Ali, country radio personality, Bobby Bones, singer Jessie James Decker, “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson, TV journalist Soledad O’Brien, Drybar founder Alli Webb and singer Carnie Wilson.

For the talent segment of the show, Franklin did an operatic vocal of “Quando m’en vo”” from “La Bohème.” In the final round of the competition, Franklin was asked how being Miss New York prepared her for her being Miss America judge Ali. Franklin answered, “I have New York grit. I have moved over five times because of subletting in New York. It can be a little difficult because of the pricey rent, but I’ve overcome that. And also, as a New Yorker, I understand what it takes to work hard. I came up on a Lincoln Center fellowship because I’m an artist, and I’m really excited to just share my platform my social impact advocating for the arts and make sure all students have access to a quality education.”

Miss Florida Taylor Tyson, Miss Connecticut Bridget Oei, Miss America 2019 Nia Imani Franklin, Miss Louisiana Holli’ Conway and Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Rounding out the Top 5 contestants were Miss Connecticut Bridget Oei (first runner-up); Miss Louisiana Holli’ Conway (second runner-up); Miss Florida Taylor Tyson (third runner-up); and Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras (fourth runner-up).

It was the first Miss America show to take place since the massive changes that the Miss America Organization implemented in 2018 under its new leadership headed by chairperson Gretchen Carlson. The changes included eliminating the swimsuit competition, which was replaced with more interview time for the contestants; changing the show’s name from the Miss America Pageant to the Miss America Competition; and no longer judging the contestants for their physical looks. The evening gown portion of the show remained, but the contestants were no longer judged on how they looked in the gowns. The contestants also wore more casual business attire during another part of the competition.

Miss America 2019 Nia Imani Franklin (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Instead of being judged by their looks, the contestants were judged on various other factors, such as their poise, how they answered questions, their personalities, intelligence, talent and personal accomplishments.

The big changes to the Miss America show didn’t come without a lot of controversy. People opposed to the changes include several pageant officials and contestants on the state and local levels, former Miss America contestants and thousand of petitioners who have demanded that Carlson and other Miss America Organization leaders resign.

Miss America 2018 Cara Mund is also among the critics. In August, she went public with an open letter voicing her disapproval of the new policies and leadership. In the letter and in many subsequent interviews, Mund accused Carlson and other Miss American Organization leaders of bullying her and excluding her. The Miss America Organization issued this statement in response to Mund’s claims: “The Miss America Organization supports Cara. It is disappointing that she chose to air her grievances publicly not privately. Her letter contains mischaracterizations and many unfounded accusations. We are reaching out to her privately to address her concerns.” Carlson also went on Twitter to deny the claims. There also many supporters of the new changes for the Miss America show, but they weren’t as vocal as the critics were.

Miss America 2018 Cara Mund crowns Miss America 2019 Nia Imani Franklin (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Despite the controversy, Mund was all smiles on stage as she fulfilled her duties of crowning Miss America 2019.

Franklin, who is a native North Carolina, graduated from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, with a bachelor’s degree in music composition. In 2017, she earned her master of fine arts degree in music competition from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Franklin moved to New York City after being selected as a 2017 William R. Kenan Jr. fellow with the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ education division.

Final results Contestant(s)
Miss America 2019
  • New York (state) New York – Nia Franklin
1st runner-up
  • Connecticut Connecticut -Bridget Oei
2nd runner-up
  • Louisiana Louisiana – Holli’ Conway
3rd runner-up
  • Florida Florida – Taylor Tyson
4th runner-up
  • Massachusetts Massachusetts – Gabriela Taveras
Top 10
  • Alabama Alabama – Callie Walker
  • Colorado Colorado – Ellery Jones
  • Washington, D.C. District of Columbia – Allison Farris
  • Idaho Idaho – Nina Forest
  • Nebraska Nebraska – Jessica Shultis
Top 15
  • Indiana Indiana – Lydia Tremaine
  • Minnesota Minnesota – Michaelene Karlen
  • Oklahoma Oklahoma – Ashley Thompson
  • Washington (state) Washington – Danamarie McNicholl
  • Wisconsin Wisconsin – Tianna Vanderhei

2018 Miss Universe Pageant: Event will take place in Bangkok; Steve Harvey returns as host

July 31, 2018

Miss Universe 2017
Miss Universe 2017 Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa at the Miss Universe Pageant at The AXIS at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on November 26, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Fox)

The following is a press release from the Miss Universe Organization:

The Miss Universe Organization today announced that the 2018 MISS UNIVERSE® competition will take place in Bangkok, Thailand, and will air in the United States LIVE Sunday, December 16 (7:00-10:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed) on FOX. Five-time Emmy® Award winner, and one of television’s favorite entertainers,Steve Harvey returns to host. The three-hour event will feature women representing nearly 100 countries competing in multiple categories and will result in reigning Miss Universe Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, from South Africa, crowning her successor.

“The Miss Universe competition provides women from all walks of life and all corners of the globe the opportunity to represent their countries and share their ambitions, perspectives and personal experiences on an international stage,” added Nel-Peters. “Becoming Miss Universe changed the course of my life, and I look forward to seeing which amazing woman will benefit next!”

Over the pageant’s 67-year history, Bangkok has hosted MISS UNIVERSE® in 1992 and 2005, with representatives of Thailand capturing the crown twice in 1965 and 1988. This year, TW Investment Group will host the 2018 MISS UNIVERSE® and support in organizing the competition in Thailand.

Known for tropical beaches and pristine islands, sprawling metropolitan and lavish royal palaces, ancient ruins and lavish temples, Thailand’s colorful history and unique culture is home to one of Miss Universe’s most passionate fan bases. Bangkok, the country’s most populous capital city, is one of the most popular international tourist destinations. Bangkok and the country of Thailand will host the Miss Universe representatives, who will also have the opportunity to travel throughout the country and experience different “Go Local” points of interest.

Find MISS UNIVERSE® on Facebook and YouTube, and follow onTwitter and Instagram.