Review: ‘Beast’ (2022), starring Idris Elba

August 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Idris Elba in “Beast” (Photo by Lauren Mulligan/Universal Pictures)

“Beast” (2022)

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur

Some language in Tshivenda with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Africa, the horror movie “Beast” features a predominantly black cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A British single father, who’s a medical doctor, goes on a safari in South Africa to reconnect with his two estranged, underage American daughters, and they encounter a lion on a rampage.

Culture Audience: “Beast” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Idris Elba and formulaic horror movies about murderous animals on the loose.

Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley, Idris Elba and Leah Jeffries in “Beast” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

As a horror story about a killer lion on the loose, “Beast” is tame, predictable and often ridiculous. Disney’s 1994 animated film “The Lion King” has more suspense than the formulaic junk of “Beast.” Viewers who want to watch a movie with no imagination, terribly staged action scenes and some laughably bad dialogue will probably enjoy “Beast” a lot more than people who are looking for better-quality entertainment, considering the talented cast members who star in this movie.

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur and written by Ryan Engle, “Beast” used computer-generated imagery (CGI) visual effects for the rampaging lion that causes terror in the story. And these visual effects are obvious, because the lion looks very fake. The movie has multiple action sequences where a human kicks the lion, and the lion unrealistically backs off instead of mauling the person to death, which is what would happen in real life.

In another part of the “Beast,” a severely injured person who would be unconscious from medical shock and extreme loss of blood is able to sit up and talk like a normal, healthy human being. The movie is just scene after sloppily edited scene of hard-to-believe nonsense. And to top it all off, viewers are supposed to believe that this rampaging lion does things that are against a lion’s nature because the lion has a human-like revenge plan.

“Beast” also has an over-used formula that’s often in derivative movies about families who experience terror on an adventure trip: tension-filled parent-child relationships. In “Beast,” Dr. Nate Samuels (played by Idris Elba) is a medical doctor and a British immigrant who has been living in the United States for an untold number of years. Nate was separated from his wife Amahle (played by Naledi Mogadime), a South African native, when she died of cancer. The movie never says how long Amahle (who’s briefly seen in Nate’s dream sequences) has been deceased, but conversations indicate that she died less than a year before the story takes place.

Nate and Amahle (who was a photographer) met in South Africa. At some point in their relationship, they moved to the United States, where their two daughters were born and raised. The two daughters have opposite personalities. Meredith “Mare” Samuels (played by Iyana Halley) is 18 years old, moody and withdrawn. Norah Samuels (played by Leah Jeffries) is 13 years old, bubbly and talkative. Mare wants to be a photographer, just like her mother was. Norah hasn’t decided what she wants to do with her life when she’s adult, but she mentions at one point, when she’s asked, that she’s thinking about going into psychology to become a family therapist.

It might be Norah’s subconscious way of saying that her own family needs therapy. In a few guilt-ridden monologues in the movie, Nate reveals that his workaholic ways made him a mostly inattentive father before Amahle died. He also blames himself for not seeing the early signs that she had cancer.

Mare (who doesn’t want to be called Meredith) has more bitter feelings toward Nate than Norah does. Mare is especially angry that Nate had downplayed Amahle’s cancer. It’s mentioned that Nate even went as far as promising his daughters that Amahle would be okay and would recover. And that was a promise he couldn’t keep.

As a way to reconnect with his daughters, Nate has taken Mare and Norah a trip to South Africa, to go to the places where Amahle loved. It’s a trip that he promised to Mare and Norah long ago, but he feels that the trip is more urgent now that Amahle has passed away. One of the places where Nate wants to take Mare and Norah is the wildlife preserve where he and Amahle had some fond memories.

The preserve is the home and workplace of wildlife biologist Martin Battles (played by Sharlto Copley), a longtime friend of Nate’s. Martin (who is a never-married bachelor) was the one who introduced Nate to Amahle. Martin, who is also a passionate anti-poacher, is disturbed that poachers have been killing animals on the preserve and have recently been going after lions. (“Beast” was filmed on location in South Africa—specifically in Limpopo province, Northern Cape province and Cape Town.)

The opening scene of “Beast” shows one of these poacher hunts on the preserve at night. Viewers later find out that the poacher’s leader is a generic villain named Kees (played by Martin Munro), who goes with a group of native South Africans for these illegal hunting activities. In this opening scene, the killer lion goes on the attack. Later, it’s shown that the lion has gone on a rampage and killed several local villagers who have nothing do to with the poachers.

Why is this lion attacking every human in sight? It’s against a lion’s nature to attack, unless it’s to eat or in self-defense from being provoked. The lion is killing people but not eating them. Martin, who is the safari guide for the Samuels family, suddenly acts like a lion psychologist, and announces that the lion must be out for revenge because the poachers killed members of the lion’s pride.

You can easily guess the rest of what happens in this movie. And sure enough: Nate, Mare, and Norah find themselves trapped in a Jeep after the lion suddenly attacks them in the vehicle. Mare takes the wheel of the car, crashes it in a state of panic, and the vehicle is then unable to start. Meanwhile, Martin, who has been communicating with them by walkie talkie, tells the family that he’s been attacked by the lion. The attack has resulted in Martin’s right leg being severely injured, and he’s losing a critical amount of blood that could soon lead to his death if he doesn’t get medical help.

The rest of “Beast” is an unsurprising back-and-forth battle between the lion and the humans. The people who die and survive are exactly whom you think will die and survive. Although “Beast” has some stunning landscape cinematography, and the cast members give adequate performances, all of it is not enough to overcome the idiotic things that happen in this substandard movie.

In the production notes for “Beast,” producer Will Packer said he wanted to make “Beast” like “‘Cujo’ with a lion.” The 1983 horror film “Cujo,” which is based on Stephen King’s 1981 novel of the same name, is about a woman trapped in a car with her son while a rabid St. Bernard named Cujo is nearby. Considering that the “Cujo” movie failed to impress enough movie audiences and critics to be a major hit, that’s all you need to know about how low the standards are for “Beast.”

Universal Pictures will release “Beast” in U.S. cinemas on August 19, 2022.

Review: ‘Gaia’ (2021), starring Monique Rockman, Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk and Anthony Oseyemi

June 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Carel Nel, Monique Rockman and Alex van Dyk in “Gaia” (Photo by Jorrie van der Walt/Decal)

“Gaia” (2021)

Directed by Jaco Bouwer

Some language in Afrikaans with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Cape Town, South Africa, the horror film “Gaia” features a cast of four people: two white people as wilderness dwellers and one Asian and one black person as forest rangers.

Culture Clash: While out patrolling, two forest rangers get separated, and one of them is captured by two wilderness dwellers, who have an obsession with worshipping nature and have to fight off mysterious fungus creatures.

Culture Audience: “Gaia” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching “slow burn” horror films that have not-so-subtle messages about the dangers of disrespecting the environment.

Monique Rockman in “Gaia” (Photo by Jorrie van der Walt/Decal)

“Gaia” is an intentionally creepy environmentalist film that’s dressed up as a horror movie. It’s intriguing enough for viewers who have the patience to tolerate slow-paced moments that dilute thrilling action scenes. “Gaia” (directed by Jaco Bouwer and written by Tertius Kapp) also has a few plot holes that could be explained away, if viewers are willing to believe that two forest rangers who disappear while on the job wouldn’t have a search and rescue team looking for them after a certain period of time.

That’s because there are only four people in this entire movie, which takes place and was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa: forest rangers Gabi (played by Monique Rockman) and Winston (played by Anthony Oseyemi) and wilderness dwellers Barend (played by Carel Nel) and his son Stefan (played by Alex van Dyk), who is in his late teens or early 20s. Gabi and Winston appear to be in their late 20s or early 30s.

In the beginning of the movie, Gabi and Winston are patrolling an unnamed area forest area by canoe. They’re using four drones, with one currently in the air. Gabi notices on her video monitor that a man covered in mud has briefly appeared on camera, and then the drone seems to stop operating. It’s implied that this mystery man has taken the drone.

Gabi immediately wants to go in the forest to find the drone. Winston is nervous and warns her: “People disappear in this forest.” Gabe brushes off Winston’s concerns and says of the people who have supposedly disappeared: “Oh come on, Winston. They were just crusty old hippies. They probably just moved on to their next squat.”

Winston reluctantly lets Gabi go into the forest by herself (nothing was going to stop her anyway) and tells her that she’s got one hour before he’ll come looking for her. Since this is a horror movie, it’s easy to predict what happens next: Gabi encounters danger in the woods. She gets caught in a booby trap that causes a wooden stake to be embedded in her left foot. And it turns out that the mud-covered mystery man is Barend, who set the trap and also destroyed the drone.

Gabi is captured by Barend and Stefan, who take her to their remote cabin in the woods. It’s soon clear that they’re not going to kill her, but they aren’t willing to let her go either. Barend treats Gabi’s foot wound and even lets her try to contact Winston by walkie talkie. However, the first time Gabi uses the walkie talkie to get help, she hears nothing but static.

The rest of the “Gaia” shows that this is no ordinary forest. There are pollen-like particles that float in the air that can cause certain mutations to anyone who inhales these particles. While Gabi’s foot is healing, she finds out that Barend and Stefan (who doesn’t talk much) have been living “off the grid” in this forest for several years.

Barend tells her that he used to be a scientist whose specialty was plant pathology. His wife Lily, who was Stefan’s mother, died 13 years ago and was a chemical engineer. Barend says cryptically, “After Lily died, I met her.”

Barend and Stefan, who are both emaciated, engage in a ritual of covering themselves with mud when they go outside to worship nature. There’s one tree in particular that is the object of their obsession. Is this a tree of life or a tree of death and destruction? The answer is revealed in the movie.

During the course of the movie, viewers find out that Barend has a particular hatred of technology and modern inventions. One day, he sees Gabi showing Stefan her cell phone and photos that are on her phone, which does not get a signal in this dense forest. Barend destroys the cell phone in a rage as he shouts, “Keep your devilish devices away from us!”

It’s implied that Stefan is a virgin who is not used to interacting with women. Gabi uses her feminine charms not with the intention of completely seducing Stefan but to make him easier to manipulate. She also tells Stefan that he could meet a lot of girls if he lived outside the forest, but Stefan doesn’t seem interested. Instead, Stefan tells Gabi that Barend says that everyone in the outside world is doomed to die.

Barend and Stefan haven’t been completely by themselves in this forest. There are menacing fungus creatures that sometimes try to invade their cabin. These mutant creatures have arms and legs and can stand upright like humans. But they are also blind. Their attacks are the most suspenseful scenes in the movie, although some of the action stunts look choppy and could have been better choreographed to look more realistic.

However, there’s another horror in the movie that isn’t as fast-paced. Over time, Gabi notices that shrub-like plant buds are growing out of her arms and then other parts of her body. When she plucks off these buds, she bleeds like someone would bleed from a minor cut. And the fate of Winston is also shown in the movie. What happens to him isn’t much of a surprise.

“Gaia” has some memorably striking visual effects, and the actors give performances that are fairly good at sustaining interest in the story. But don’t expect “Gaia” to have a lot of character development, since very little is revealed about the lives that any of the movie’s characters had outside of the forest. And for a forest ranger, Gabi doesn’t seem to have a lot of basic survival skills.

Rather than offering clear explanations behind the mystery of the forest and the characters in the story, “Gaia” is more concerned with creating moods and letting the story’s message slowly reveal itself, much like that unusual tree in the forest eventually shows its purpose. “Gaia” is not an outstanding horror film, but it’s one that leaves a distinct impression that as powerful as humans think they are, nature can be much more powerful.

Decal released “Gaia” in select U.S. cinemas on June 18, 2021, and on digital and VOD on June 25, 2021.

Review: ‘My Octopus Teacher,’ starring Craig Foster

April 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Craig Foster and Rosetta in “My Octopus Teacher” (Photo by Tom Foster/Netflix)

“My Octopus Teacher”

Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed

Culture Representation: Taking place off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, the documentary “My Octopus Teacher” features white South African filmmaker chronicling his year-long journey of observing and befriending a female octopus named Rosetta living in a kelp forest.

Culture Clash: The octopus Rosetta frequently encounters dangerous predators, such as pyjama sharks.

Culture Audience: “My Octopus Teacher” will appeal primarily to people interested in nature documentaries that have visually immersive cinematography and emotionally moving examples of how humans and animals can bond with each other.

Rosetta in “My Octopus Teacher” (Photo by Craig Foster/Netflix)

Nature documentaries about humans who befriend or grow close to animals tend to be about mammals. And in animated films with underwater creatures, the octopus is rarely the star. The documentary “My Octopus Teacher” tells a distinctive and memorable tale of how a filmmaker formed an unusual friendship with an octopus that taught him more about life than he expected. It’s a movie that’s unabashedly sentimental but also thoroughly entertaining and educational.

Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, “My Octopus Teacher” was eight years in the making, but the footage in the movie is about how South African documentary filmmaker Craig Foster observed and eventually grew close to a female octopus during an approximately one-year period. Foster named the octopus Rosetta, and he visited her every day in False Bay, off the coast of his hometown of Cape Town, South Africa. Foster, whose specialty is nature documentaries, produced “My Octopus Teacher,” and he was inspired to film in the kelp forests that he remembered playing in as a child.

The documentary’s stunning cinematography by Foster and Roger Horrocks completely immerses viewers in the underwater kelp forest that is Rosetta’s domain. At first, the octopus is wary and mistrustful of Foster, but she eventually figures out that he won’t hurt her, and she learns to trust him. There’s a breakthrough moment when she reaches a tentacle out to him, like a handshake.

And much later, their bond is strong enough where she lets him cradle her in his arms like a baby. There’s very much a “cute” factor to this movie that will delight people of all ages and especially people who have a fondness for animals. What’s also unique about the movie is that, unlike most animal documentaries that focus on a family of animals, “My Octopus Teacher” is only about one animal. It’s mentioned in the film that an octopus, by nature, tends be a loner.

“My Octopus Teacher” shows how the intelligence of an octopus is much higher than a lot of people might think it is. In the documentary, Foster (who gives constant on-camera and voiceover narration throughout the film) says that an octopus has approximately the same intelligence as a dog or a cat. But Rosetta gets herself out of predicaments in such a way that will make people think she’s smarter than the average octopus.

Foster’s underwater excursions were unusual for a documentarian because he refused to wear a wet suit or a scuba tank. As he explains in the documentary, “Having a scuba tank is not optimal for me. I want to be more like an amphibious animal. Instinctively, I knew not to wear a wet suit. If you really want to get close to an environment like this, it helps tremendously to have no barrier to that environment.”

The narration of “My Octopus Teacher” is deeply personal, since Foster tells his story like someone giving testimony about a life-changing experience. Thanks to skillful editing from Ehrlich and Dan Schwalm, footage that’s shown is an effective match to what he recounts in his storytelling. Foster says that around the year 2010, he got burned out from making films in exotic but harsh locations (such as Africa’s Kalahari Desert, where he filmed “The Great Dance”) and was experiencing stress-related anxiety. And so, he decided that he would go back to the kelp forests of his childhood for a more relaxing underwater environment.

As Foster tells it in the documentary, he didn’t expect that he would become so personally attached to this octopus. By his own admission, he became “obsessed” with Rosetta’s well-being and what she was up to on a daily basis. It’s very clear that Foster became emotionally attached to the octopus as someone might be for a pet that doesn’t live in the home.

Of course, life for Rosetta wasn’t all happiness and joy. She was under constant threat from predators, with the most dangerous being pyjama sharks. A nature documentary is almost required to show chase scenes that could end in life or death. And “The Octopus Teacher” certainly delivers on this type of suspense.

There’s also a segment early on the film when Rosetta is scared off because Foster accidentally dropped a camera near her. His sudden lens also spooked her and she ran off and abandoned the den where she was living. Foster than had to learn how to track down an octopus in this vast environment.

He comments in the movie about this investigative mission: “You have to start thinking like an octopus. It’s like being a detective. You just slowly start getting all of your clues together. And then I started to make little breakthroughs.”

Some of the clues involved tracing Rosetta by the type of discarded food she was likely to have left behind. And the strategy works. Foster’s elation at reuniting with Rosetta after a week of not seeing her is almost palpable through the screen. And the octopus’ reaction is also a sight to behold.

“My Octopus Teacher” was absolutely designed to pull at people’s heartstrings. The lively musical score from Kevin Smuts hits all the right emotional buttons. And Foster gets teary-eyed in a few moments of the film that will also make a lot of viewers cry too.

If there’s any main criticism that people might have of the movie it’s that there’s too much narration. And some viewers might think that it’s a bit too anthropomorphic when Foster (who is not a scientist) tells viewers what Rosetta was feeling. However, the flip side to that argument is Foster spent a year developing a close bond to this octopus, so he’s entitled to his opinion. Some cynics might also snipe that the documentary is a promotional vehicle for the Sea Change Project, a diver community that Foster co-founded and which is mentioned in the movie’s epilogue.

Even without the sentimentality of this story, “My Octopus Teacher” has lessons in humility that people can learn when it comes to human beings’ tendency to underestimate the intelligence of other animals. The end of the movie shows how Foster’s friendship with Rosetta affected his relationship with his son Tom, who was a teenager at the time this documentary was filmed and who appears briefly in the movie. “My Octopus Teacher” is such an emotionally stirring film, it’s bound to have an effect on viewers too.

Netflix premiered “My Octopus Teacher” on September 7, 2020.

Review: ‘Dave Not Coming Back,’ starring Don Shirley, David Shaw, Ann Shaw and Theo Dreyer

November 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dave Shaw in “Dave Not Coming Back” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Dave Not Coming Back”

Directed by Jonah Malak 

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Africa, the documentary “Dave Not Coming Back” features an all-white group of people discussing the 2005 tragic deep-water diving death of Australian diver David “Dave” Shaw.

Culture Clash: Shaw and several other divers had been on a mission to recover the body of another diver who died in 1994, despite warnings that this mission would be dangerous.

Culture Audience: “Dave Not Coming Back” will appeal primarily to people interested in documentaries about deep-water diving that combine archival footage, original interviews and re-enactments.

A scene from “Dave Not Coming Back” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The documentary “Dave Not Coming Back” (directed by Jonah Malak) takes a harrowing look into the tragic death of 50-year-old Australian diver David “Dave” Shaw, who died in 2005 in Boesmansgat, a notoriously deadly freshwater cave in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. The title of the movie refers to the note that was written during the dive to let the other divers know what happened to Shaw. What’s different about this deep-water film is that this fateful journey in Bousemansgat (which means “Bushman’s Hole” in English) is recreated on film by including one of the divers (Don Shirley) who narrowly escaped death during this dive. It’s very unusual for a survivor to be willing to recreate this devastating event for a movie, but people can have different ways of dealing with trauma.

The documentary includes some basic education about deep-water driving: Although someone can dive into deep water at a rapid pace, coming back up has to be much slower, due to oxygen levels and pressure that can do bodily damage if someone ascends too quickly. Decompression illness, also known as “the bends,” occurs when tiny air bubbles form in the blood and can result in permanent damage to the body or death.

Decompression illness is what happened to Shirley, who was one of Shaw’s closest friends and still feels the effects of not being able to save Shaw on that fateful day. The diving excursion (which happened on January 8, 2005) wasn’t for thrills but had a serious purpose: to recovery the body of Deon Dreyer, a 20-year-old diver who died in Bousemansgat in 1994. His body remained missing until it was discovered by Shaw, 10 years later while he was on a diving trip there.

Bousemansgat is treacherous for divers because of how deep the water in the cave can go. As of this writing, the longest on-the-record depth that a diver has reached in Bousemansgat is 282.6 meters, which equals 927.2 feet, in a feat achieved by Nuno Gomes (a Portuguese-South African diver) in 1996. In October 2004, Shaw planned to do a deep dive of about 270 to 280 meters in Bousemansgat. A dive that is 270 to 280 meters can take as little as 17 minutes to dive down, but as many as 12 hours to come back up.

Shaw comments in 2004 video archival footage that’s shown in the documentary: “I had no expectation to break the world record for death. The aim was to explore. When I looked off to the left, that’s when I saw the body that had been lost 10 years earlier.”

With the permission of Dreyer’s family (Deon Dreyer’s father Theo Dreyer is interviewed in the documentary), a team of experienced divers that included Shaw and Shirley returned to Bousemansgat on January 8, 2005, to recover the body. Shaw wanted to document the dive, so he wore a helmet with a video camera secured at the top of the helmet.

Derek Hughes, one of the divers on this trip, says in hindsight that Shaw’s decision to wear a helmet might have been a mistake that sealed his fate on the dive. In an interview for the documentary, Hughes says that Shaw not only wasn’t used to wearing a helmet while diving, but also the helmet was very bulky because it had to house a video camera. Shaw’s unfamiliarity with wearing a helmet while diving, along with the helmet getting in the way when Shaw tried to untangle some wiring that was tied to Deon Dreyer’s body, turned out to be the main reason why Shaw got stuck underwater and died.

Hughes comments, “It plays on my mind sometimes. Was the desire to document the whole dive partly responsible for what happened? That makes those feelings of guilt a real issue.”

The underwater video that Shaw recorded during the dive also recorded his death. Shirley calls it a “snuff video” that he vehemently fought against being shown on TV newscasts. Shirley is seen on camera advising the “Dave Not Coming Back” filmmakers at which point they should cut off the underwater video footage that Shaw recorded if the filmmakers chose to use any of the footage in the documentary. They follow that advice.

Although “Dave Not Coming Back” shows the moment when Shaw found the wiring that would end up being the catalyst for his death, the documentary wisely does not include any footage of Shaw dying. It would be extremely tacky and unnecessary exploitation if any of that death footage was in the movie. As for the recreation footage of the diving trip, it’s respectfully done, so that viewers can get a sense of how much of an enormous challenge it was to go on this diving mission. The excellent cinematography of Marwan Haroun gives a stunning and immersive experience of what it’s like to go on a diving mission in this enchanting but treacherous environment.

Even with eye-catching scenes in the film, “Dave Not Coming Back” is mostly made worthwhile because of the participation of Shirley and other people who were part of the diving team on that fateful day. Shirley shares fond memories of Shaw, by saying things like: “I never had a brother. Dave felt like a brother.” He also mentions that he and Shaw had a special bond because they were so alike in many ways, such as how they suited up for a dive and their striking physical resemblance to each other.

Theo Dreyer also felt a special connection to Shaw because, as he says in the documentary, Shaw reminded him of his son Deon: “Dave is one of the few people I compare to Deon. The similarities … were frightening. He [Dave Shaw] tried to do me a favor and ended up not coming back. That’s extremely intense.”

Other people interviewed in the film include divers who were on this trip: Stephen Sander, Peter Herbst, Mark Andrews, Dusan Stojakovic (who died in a diving accident in 2017), Truwin Laas, Petras Roux, Lo Vingerling and Andre Shirley (Don Shirley’s wife). Also interviewed are Ann Shaw (Dave’s widow); Dr. Jack Meintjies (a diving medical expert who is medical director of Divers Alert Network Southern Africa); and diving instructor Gerhard Du Preez.

“Dave Not Coming Back” isn’t all gloom and doom about Shaw’s death. The archival footage of Shaw shows him to be an adventurous and generous diver who was well-respected by his peers. This movie does a very good job of honoring the life that he led, while also giving a respectful way for the survivors to express their points of view. Malak keeps the pace and the tone of the movie consistently on the passion for deep-water diving, but “Dave Not Coming Back” is also a cautionary tale of how someone’s life can be cruelly taken away during this high-risk activity.

Gravitas Ventures released “Dave’s Not Coming Back” on digital and VOD on November 10, 2020.

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

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