Updated: May 19, 2021 8:58:31 am
The beauty pageant has definitely seen better days. When Instagram feeds turn youngsters into celebrities, when a smartphone screen can launch showbiz careers, a contest where stunning women in swimsuits are expected to spout platitudes about “inner beauty” and “world peace” appears spectacularly passé. But as Thuzar Wint Lwin, Miss Universe contestant from Myanmar, demonstrated in Florida, glamour pairs well with the flag of protest. The young woman used the pageant to tell the American audience — and the world — about the crackdown on pro-democracy protestors by the military junta after it forcibly dislodged the Aung San Suu Kyi government in February. “Our people are dying, and are being shot every day,” she said in a recorded video message. Lwin is not the only one. Last month, another young university student from Yangon had used a beauty pageant in Thailand to make an impassioned speech against the Tatmadaw. They are among many celebrities that are using the internet to protest against the coup in Myanmar at the risk of military blowback.
Perhaps, this explosion of the raw and real into a thing wrought of such immense artifice as the beauty pageant is a sign of the times. Across the world, it’s become impossible to seal off aspects of social and cultural life from the larger political churning. That is reflected in how the community of artists, filmmakers, actors and celebrities, among many others, are not only seen to be taking political positions — but are also held accountable for their views. One could argue that much of it does descend into a performative wokeness. But it is also a long-delayed reckoning of the exclusions that shape stardom and fandom alike.
Sometimes, as it so happened in Florida, such open political positions can be a matter of life and death. Thuzar Wint Lwin, who took to the streets to demand restoration of democracy in Myanmar before she boarded a flight to the US, knew she might not be able to return home after her Miss Universe stint — but still went ahead. Give her that crown, already.
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