“And the crown goes to…” Those words brought butterflies to nearly 1 billion viewers in over 100 countries watching the 61st Annual Miss Universe Pageant broadcast over NBC and Telemundo from PH Live at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 19, 2012 in the final seconds. For the first time in history the Costume Exhibition and Preliminary Competition were also streamed live via missuniverse.com to a record number of households across the globe.
Around the world there were 89 countries in particular who felt butterflies more so during the first 20 minutes as they waited feverishly to see if their country representative would make the Top 16. That moment signifies the perceived hope that she will be presented with a fair opportunity to compete for the title of Miss Universe. After those 20 minutes only 16 countries matter to the 1 billion watchers tuned in, press and media, advertisers, sponsors, fashion designers, travelers contemplating whether their next vacation should be in those places along with parents deciding how necessary it is for their child to learn English, Spanish, Chinese or Japanese as a second or even third language. So there was only one question in my mind after the Top 16 ladies were called.
Why no black women in the Top 16?
The Top 16 also matters to mothers and fathers who have to explain to their daughters what the world sees as beautiful and if that concept looks like them. What Christmas doll will a little colored girl ask for then? A Barbie or Cabbage Patch in her shade of chocolate or a white doll because she observed “black isn’t beautiful enough?”
Why no black women in the Top 16? Candidates from 12 countries in particular stood out to me. Jamaica, Belgium, Curaçao, Bahamas, Guyana, Gabon, Ethiopia, Cayman Islands, Angola, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago as well as Canada were all profiled in the international media and pageant blogs for months preceding the pageant vying for the position as “the black girl of 2012 to beat.” Why was there more cream than coffee in Donald Trump’s cup?
How could the Miss Universe Organization send a blatant message to 1 billion viewers in over 100 countries that “black isn’t beautiful enough” when these 12 countries among others sent black candidates that ran circles around some of the Top 16 selected with regard to smile, poise, intelligence, grace, facial beauty, personality, height, fitness level and elegance? Those 12 black women in particular were all shades of coffee from caramel to mocha to barely any cream at all, some more natural with no weaves, no plastic surgery, and some allegedly had some work done. Some were fresh out of high school filled with possibility, and others were young professionals aspiring to be at the top of their respective fields.
Miss Universe Organization: not even the acknowledgement that “black is beautiful” with consolation prizes of Costume, Congeniality nor Photogenic? For the last 12 years, a black candidate has won at least one prize annually. Not this year though. No “black isn’t beautiful enough” in 2012. Nothing but cream in Trump’s coffee today.
So I watched in anticipation until the bitter end to see the beautiful Leila Lopes, Miss Universe 2011 of Angola pass her title along to an Asian, Latina or White woman. Maybe it was just that simple. Not this year.
Is there a “Bill Maher new rule” that Miss Universe would never again have 2 black women selected back to back like Wendy Fitzwilliam of Trinidad in 1998 followed Mpule Kwelagobe of Botswana in 1999? Will the 1990s be forever etched in pageantry history as the only decade where three black women were crowned Miss Universe as Miss USA Chelsi Smith was crowned Miss Universe 1995? Icons of commercial beauty during the 1990s were Toni Braxton, Naomi Campbell and Halle Berry after all.
While co-hosting a live chat for one of my clients the Miss Bahamas Organization, my emotions amplified as 16 went to 10 and then to 5. Admittedly, pageantry is indeed subjective as beauty, intelligence, poise and grace are all subjective characteristics.
But as I watched, some of the Top 16 candidates looked much older than the 27 age limit and even had little bellies. Was that confirmation to young girls that beauty is about the confident embrace of the imperfect, and that the average woman does not need 6 pack abs and a Size 2 dress to be considered beautiful? Perhaps.
Albeit there’s no SAT-type exam in pageantry where the top scorers are selected. You never know what the judges have been told to look for, nor do you know the current objective of the franchise. Admittedly, when people rant “these pageants are fixed” in most instances that is simply not true, but it feels that way to the viewer because judges can only score based on the criteria they have been told to use. For the record, I do not think this pageant is “fixed.” I do watch “Numbers,” “House MD,” “CSI” and “Scandal,” so I am a firm believer in conspiracies and that mathematically you can ask certain questions to generate higher point totals for certain pre-determined contestants versus others. Moreover, judges are not sequestered like a jury. They go to events and observe who the press gravitates towards, who gives the best interviews, who is the most confident, which contestants make fast friends, and who is the best dressed and most stylish contestant in the room.
In the MU organization Donald Trump owns Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe franchises. That means to me economics and big business become huge factors in the decision making every year. After all it is a business so it must remain profitable for Trump, his investors and their advertisers. As I saw Venezuela, Brazil, Philippines, USA and Australia make the Top 5 it started to click. Venezuela’s lost in translation answer took her out of the running. No way you could let her loose as Miss Universe without a translator! That means an additional staff member goes where she goes. More expense for MU. You’re fired. So looking at the remaining 4:-
- Who is most marketable in this group?
- Who appeals to the demographics where the franchise makes the most money?
- What countries invest in their queens and acknowledge they are ambassadors on the world stage?
- Who got more international press attention?
- What queens were not so nice?
- Who got the highest votes via the website demonstrating how interested their country was in this competition?
Looking at the Top 5 and those questions, the term “sash power” came to mind. After all, I am an entrepreneur running 5 companies under my DS3 brand. I am also an Ivy League-educated political scientist and economist, so I could not let me emotional levels overcome my intellectual desire to generate multiple quantitative analyses of the power of the brand, digital footprinting, long term and short term investment, marketability, calculated risk, what a sponsor needs to get out of a donation and what a country should desire to reap from an ambassador being exposed to 1 billion people over 3 weeks of competition. So does that qualify me to have a pageant soapbox? Well of course!
As a pageant girl as well, I understand HOW the game is played better than most, plus how to walk, talk and answer questions diplomatically always as an ambassador first and an individual second. Pageant girls know you must ensure that every time you exit a room a positive impression of who you are and what you represent must linger in your absence. I participated in my first pageant at the tender age of 5 at a little college named Prairie View A&M University in Texas. Growing up I was a student-athlete who loved the competitive thrill of pageantry just like I loved track and field and spelling bees. Winning! Before placing 1st runner up in Miss Bahamas Universe myself I managed to compete in over 23 pageants in the US, Caribbean and Canada representing Texas, New York and the Bahamas never placing less than 1st runner up. I have continued to be a proud ambassador for my countries ever since …. but I digress.
Back to back black queens. If I am honest with myself did I ever anticipate Leila Lopes crowning another coffee-colored beauty, despite how wonderful the Chocolate 12 performed in the preliminaries nor what any blog said? Long shot or not happening. I wondered:
- how many MU sponsors and advertisers did not use Leila in 2012 because of her skin color or her accent?
- how many luxury brands thought it bad business sense to align themselves with an African woman from an impoverished nation like Angola?
- how many advertisers were eager to come back as long as the newly selected queen was light, bright or even white?
The Truth on Back to Back Black Beauties
It is important to note that Donald Trump’s organization had only owned the Miss Universe franchise for 2 years when Wendy and Mpule were crowned, the sole back to back chocolate beauties. Changing the direction of the organization was tantamount for his team. In 1998 he changed the logo of Miss Universe to “the woman with stars,” representing the beauty and responsibility of women around the Universe. In the late 90s the economy was booming, AIDS awareness was a prevalent theme, and the need for running water in Africa ws a global priority. AIDS was Trinidad’s platform and running water in Africa was Botswana’s career objective. Trinidad was emerging as an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean, who put up money to host the pageant the following year, and Wendy was this naturally beautiful, tall, elegant, Hershey-hued law school graduate who took your breath away when she spoke and smiled. Mpule also competed as Botswana’s inaugural participant at Miss Universe. She spoke several languages, was a child prodigy who was nearly finished with University by 19, and had hazel eyes like Rihanna and Tyra Banks. Politically poignant, Wendy and Mpule represented something much bigger than pageantry. Their victories represented great politics and great business.
Another fascinating fact:
After Trinidad and Tobago won Miss Universe in 1998, eight nations renewed their MU franchises and returned to compete at Miss Universe after years of non-participation including 5 black countries. Renewed faith maybe for Austria, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Guyana, Suriname, Turks & Caicos, and Zambia that women of color (who were not Latina) could actually win this crown, the luxury apartment, modeling contract, cash prize, amazing annual salary, instant celebrity and unprecedented exposure for the country on the world stage? Politics, economics and subjective views of beauty are always factors.
So now after careful dissection, we fully understand the correlation between international pageantry franchises, tourism, diplomacy, big business, politics and economic opportunity. It is about business, which is why the Trump organization would desire to own Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe. At present, our international economy is suffering. Trump’s most popular recent queens have been the Asian and Latina ones, and those 2 demographics are the leading consumers with Caucasians coming in third place entering 2013 . Oh my – guess what? Olivia Culpo looks Latina! As they say in the South she could “easily pass” for Hispanic. She’s a 20 year old sophomore at Boston University who plays the cello, and a brunette with olive skin and dark eyes. That satisfies a marketing demographic for advertisers and sponsors. She also could be a stunt double for Kim Kardashianl Jennifer Lopez or Jessica Biel, which currently appeal to the current commercial climate of advertisers. It was Halle Berry, Naomi Campbell and Toni Braxton in the 1990s remember?
Was Olivia Culpo’s performance flawless in the Finals? Not by a long shot. She tripped slightly during evening gown, missed her entrance cue during swimsuit, her answer to the final question was not impressive and her evening gown looked like she borrowed it from Mrs. Claus, although she worked it resembling Audrey Hepburn. Aside though from all of the publicity she’s garnered because of the USA title that she rode confidently into Miss Universe with, what was so significant for the MU organization to choose no black women for Top 16 plus USA over Philippines? Scores from the preliminaries do carry over though, so she might have entered the Top 16 so far ahead that if she just chewed gum into the camera and stared, she might have won.
Aha. Fast forward and enters stage left: Nana Meriwether, Miss Maryland USA 2012 who was Olivia Culpo’s first runner up. Remember those words “if for any reason the queen cannot fulfill her duties…?” It’s an economic, social and political win win for Trump. Nana is a “trump card” as she is absolutely breathtaking, exotic, chocolate-hued and an American girl born in South Africa, so she has an international flair (criteria check – check and check).
Meriwether has already taken over as Miss USA, so does she get the great salary, the modeling contract, the instant celebrity plus the move into the New York luxury apartment along with Miss Teen USA Logan West (biracial who was bullied as a child) and the newly crowned Miss Universe Olivia Culpo? It might have been controversial for Nana to be crowned Miss USA outright as opposed to Rhode Island because of politics perhaps.
Although she did not break any rules, bear in mind she 1) was Miss California USA 1st runner up before she won Miss Maryland USA and 2) she was not born in the US but in the event the queen cannot fulfill her duties, here we are. I am sure Nana was jumping out of her skin when Olivia was crowned. I am sure Trump wanted to see her birth certificate and passport too.
Makes sense right? Caucasian Miss Universe, Black Miss USA, biracial Miss Teen USA. Why muddy the proverbial waters of decision-making by including any of the Chocolate 12 in a Top
16? A black beauty might actually perform well and give the Asians, Caucasians or Latinas a run for their money and the crown. The finals judges can only select from what they are presented with.
Hypothetically, would Trump want another “Angola situation” where a poor country with no sash power is not in a financial position to assist during her reign nor capitalize on her celebrity? Did black businesses and international media embrace Leila Lopes and rush to Trump with advertising dollars and sponsorship opportunities because there was a black queen?
Look at this all more closely. Do the countries of the Chocolate 12 have a legacy of capitalizing on the positive tourism and economic rewards of pageantry making it worthwhile for MU organization to invest as a joint venture with them?
After all Miss Teen USA has been in held in the Bahamas for several years at Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, and Miss Universe was held in the Bahamas in 2009. Did that change the entrepreneurial climate of pageantry and ignite the economic match in the fashion/beauty tourism sub-sector in the Bahamas or in the Caribbean region? Not so much.
In fact The Bahamas government, local media in addition to private and quasi-government Bahamian businesses have continued to reduce their pageantry investment over the last 3 to 5 years there making it a significant struggle for groups like the Miss Bahamas Organization to send viable candidates to Miss Universe and Miss World fully equipped with high quality, stage worthy, locally designed evening gowns, casual attire, national costumes, accessories and contestant auction gifts.
Diminishing corporate support, limited participation and development of the fashion, beauty and pageant tourism sub-sectors, as well as minimal local media coverage in print and radio all reduce sash power, and give a quality contestant less of a chance to garner international press in months preceding the pageant and during preliminaries. Guyana had to fall down during the preliminaries to get some shine. Without amazing contenders trained well and possessing amazing beauty, plus quality public relations and branding (with The Ds3 Group of course in 2012), the Bahamas would not have even been a factor over the last 3 years at Miss Universe as it indeed has continued to be with Braneka Bassett, Anastagia Pierre and Celeste Marshall. I’m just saying…
Look around Chocolate 12 and leaders of those countries.
Is your queen:
- showcased each year by your government
- in your media
- all over television
- on billboards
- speaking in schools
- visiting hospitals and orphanages to inspire
- celebrated just as your winning athletes are celebrated and compensated just like your athletes are paid
- showcased in the airport
- on your tourism commercials and brochures
- present at diplomatic events and international conferences
- traveling with your Ministry of Tourism
- integrated heavily in the branding of your country
- embraced by corporate entities as an ambassador as the most beautiful, articulate, poised woman of the year??
Silence. — Katt Williams voice — I’ll wait. Exactly. Why would the world buy into her grace and beauty if you as a country do not? You are to blame in large part for your candidate not placing in the Top 16 year after year.
If the Chocolate 12 come from countries that have no sash power, do not invest in their queens, do not appreciate having an ambassador perform well in front of 1 billion viewers much like the finals in an Olympic race, and if the Miss USA, Teen USA Universe Organizations have to foot the bill once the queen wins, why not keep it in the family? Moreover, why not avoid the language barrier because most of the economic world speaks English anyway right? Save money on a translator too. If your queen doesn’t demonstrate that she can fluently speak English and Spanish, call it a day.
Is Black not Beautiful Enough in 2012?
On the observation that the overflowing cream in Trump’s coffee on December 19, 2012, indeed it was a suspect. Leila came out to crown the winner resembling Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States with a short wig. Look at Miss Maryland USA 2012 Nana Meriwether. She could be a stunt double for many of the Chocolate 12. Trump arguably gets a chance to redeem himself during the remainder of the Miss USA reign using Nana Meriwether and Leila Lopes positive press as reasons to counter idea that by all means “black is beautiful enough” for him.
What about Canada’s first black representative not making Top 16? There is an excuse for Canada to never to send another one. After the title holder sprained her ankle, the first runner up came to Las Vegas. Poor Canada.
Unfortunately though everyone does not agree with me and many MU directors that good showings at Miss Universe during preliminaries and the final night are indirect results of economics, tourism, sash power, national support and advertising dollars. Some feel it is all about the girl, who her coach is, what designer labels she wore each night and how tall she is. Yes some women represent different ideas of what beauty can be, and new media and advertisers amplify those views of beauty for good or bad. Most international Latino publications might have felt hoodwinked if they assumed Culpo was Latina, especially if they supported her thinking she was one of their own.
The Chocolate 12 were fabulous ambassadors though, and it was up to their countries of origin to support them in the months prior to the international pageant as such, in addition to the months remaining in their reigns. The acclaim they received in Las Vegas – no easy feat to stand out among 89 beauties. Individually as contestants each was responsible for being fit in her swimsuit, articulating well in the interview, taking amazing photos for the photographers, appealing to each sponsor they interacted with, wearing whatever they were provided with confidence and elegance, and working the press at every presented opportunity during those three intense competition weeks in Las Vegas.
Ultimately, for me as a young woman who competed in pageants in part to earn savings bonds and scholarship money, and in large part to reaffirm to myself that I was smart, pretty and important enough (love that line from the movie “The Help”), the lack of melanin in the Top 16 was a sad moment in the black international community, despite whatever reasons.
Little colored girls got the message once again that they were not beautiful enough to be acknowledged and given a fair shake. Girls of color who could have identified with any of the Chocolate 12 like the smooth Barbie-like Miss Universe Bahamas Celeste Marshall with her pressed hair, natural curves and radiant smile did not get that chance. Hopefully those little girls streamed the preliminaries live, visited the website to vote or saw the Chocolate 12 in social media. Like the black doll experiment of the 1960s US Civil Rights movement, I am sure many chocolate little girls who watched the 61st Annual Miss Universe Pageant will snub their noses at the black doll under the Christmas tree. Maybe Dora the Explorer will get a pass.
I reach out and implore international media (and black media houses in particular) to showcase those 12 coffee colored ladies from Bahamas, Jamaica, Belgium, Curaçao, Guyana, Cayman Islands, Gabon, Angola, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Trinidad and Tobago as well as Canada, put them on your magazine covers, on the fashion week runways, in commercials and advertising campaigns.
Countries: use them as your ambassadors because they represented you better than any one has in a long, long time. Entrepreneurs in their countries: use them in airports, on phone cards, on billboards, street signs, commercials, sides of buses and trains, as radio and TV news correspondents and propel them to the forefront allowing them to speak in schools and show little children in your country that black is indeed beautiful enough. Remind your sons, daughters and yourselves that you can never fully appreciate the taste of a great cup of coffee if it has too much cream. #followthecrown