50 Shades of Gray: Was this really the most woke Miss Universe Pageant? 2
Photograph from @this_is_flor on Instagram

50 Shades of Gray: Was this really the most woke Miss Universe Pageant?

The year’s pageant had many milestones going for it—it was the first time the selection committee was composed entirely of women; the first time the semi-finalists had to prepare opening statements; and the first time a transgender woman made it to the competition.
Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta | Dec 17 2018

It was designed as a post-#MeToo pageant, from its all-inclusiveness to its message of body positivity—delivered by plus-size model, and one of the three pageant hosts, Ashley Graham.

But the main host was good old Steve Harvey—bumbling, funny, politically incorrect, and decidedly unwoke. His opening spiel alone roasted the inordinate spiciness of Thai food many, many times. When he asked Miss Canada a question, and she mentioned that she was both a model and engineer, Harvey quipped (and I loosely quote), “Engineering isn’t fun, just be a model and travel around the world and wear nice clothes.” But we expected as much from the host—and his presence was offset by the selection committee (I didn’t hear the word “judges,” though ostensibly that’s what they were)—an all-woman panel composed of ex-beauty queens turned philanthropists, renowned designers, scientists turned beauty queens turned Media CEOs. It seemed like it was a good time to be a woman in a pageant; the only misogyny came in the form of the almost benign titoness of Harvey. Of course, we couldn’t escape a few racist turns from Miss America— this being the Trump era after all—as she poked fun at Miss Vietnam and Miss Cambodia’s lack of English proficiency. It seemed a kind of poetic justice then when Miss America made it only to the top twenty, and Miss Vietnam made it to the top 5.

50 Shades of Gray: Was this really the most woke Miss Universe Pageant? 3
The top 5 Miss Universe 2018 contenders. Photograph from @heoheineken on Instagram

As much as I rooted for Catriona Gray, the other candidate I had set my sights on was Angela Ponce, who I missed in the montage introducing the beauty queens—and though I’d been hawkishly watching the segment, I did not see a Miss Spain perhaps that one moment I blinked.

50 Shades of Gray: Was this really the most woke Miss Universe Pageant? 4
Miss Universe Vietnam 2018, Niê H'Hen. Photograph from @missuniverse on Instagram

I needn’t have worried about not catching an appearance altogether because there was an entire segment dedicated to Ponce—a video which traced her struggles and her fight against discrimination. She actually walked the stage to a standing ovation. Her video ends with Ponce telling the camera: “I don’t need to win Miss Universe, I just need to be here.” This segment, arguably the most provocative and moving part of the show), raised a few questions—even with this segment (and the extra attention given to Ponce), could she still have won the competition? Or had it already been decided that the presence of Ponce was win enough for her and her nation? The answer of course is that it was a big win for all of us, though a more woke pageant would have perhaps made, if not a winner, then at least a finalist out of Ponce.

50 Shades of Gray: Was this really the most woke Miss Universe Pageant? 5
Miss Universe Spain 2018, Angela Ponce. Photograph from @angelaponceofficial on Instagram

Other not-so-woke moments came in the form of questions disguised as ear-to-the-ground, hand-on-the-pulse sentiments, but that were ultimately unwoke: Do you think the MeToo movement has gone too far? Harvey asks one of the contestants. And then he goes on to ask Miss Venezuela to comment on the sentiment that the pageant is archaic and against the feminist movement. Both questions seem archaic and against the feminist movement. But in answer to the question of whether or not this was the most woke Miss U pageant, I would have to say yes, but not extravagantly so; there was a change, though not a radical one, and the host was still Steve Harvey which means there are still some unchangeable things about the pageant. Perhaps our very own Catriona Gray said it best when she talked about delicious vices: “everything is good in moderation.” And that’s how opinions and causes ran for this pageant: moderately—reminding us that no matter how revolutionary the times are, this is still a beauty pageant.

Having said all that, I believe in world peace, and that tomorrow should be a national holiday.