Latinas Rule! Africans, Asians and Europeans Pushed Aside in Moscow’s Miss Universe Contest

Posted November 12th, 2013 at 9:05 am (UTC+0)
13 comments

Miss Israel,Yityish Aynaw, was born in Gondar, Ethiopia and served as a Military Police Lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Miss Israel,Yityish Aynaw, was born in Gondar, Ethiopia and served as a Military Police Lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces. VOA Photo Ksenia Kuznetsova

OK, I did not interview Miss Venezuela.

I did not think the Miss Universe jury in Moscow would really fall for the latest plastic product of Venezuela’s beauty queen assembly lines.

Last week, at a press availability for the Misses, I could not fail to miss Miss Venezuela, Maria Gabriela Isler. Her blinding white teeth made me want to put on dark glasses. Her princess gait made the other Misses look like peasants. Earlier, at a night club “night out with the contestants,” I noticed she had a skillful way of elbowing her way to the front of the cameras.

But, early on Moscow’s Sunday morning, the Miss Universe diamond tiara landed once again on the head of a Miss Venezuela — for the third time in six years.

The fact that it kept sliding off Maria Gabriela’s leonine locks might have been a signal that the jury made the wrong call.

Out of 86 contestants from around the globe, the jury winnowed the race down to a ‘diverse’ group of five Latinas: Miss Spain, Miss Ecuador, Miss Venezuela, Miss Brazil, and Miss Philippines. (The Philippines are sometimes called Spain’s gift to Asia).

VOA Moscow's videojounalist Austin Malloy hard at work filming Miss Mexico.

VOA Moscow’s videojounalist Austin Malloy hard at work filming Miss Mexico.

Gosh, five Latinas. No Miss from Africa, Europe, or mainland Asia was good enough to make the final cut.

The contest evening started on a sensible note.

To pick the top 16, the jury picked beauties from little countries – Costa Rica, Switzerland and Nicaragua. It also chose contestants from big countries — China, India, Brazil, Britain, the United States, Spain and Indonesia. This strategy kept hundreds of millions of people around the globe glued to their TV sets.

But slowly, as the magic number of 16 inexorably approached, it dawned on millions of Russians that this jury was not picking a BRIC, but a BIC – Brazil-India-China.

Despite the swelling chant of “Rossiya”, the jury culled Russia in the first cut. What a slap in the face to the host country!

MIss Russia Elmira Abdrazakova pauses for photographers at SoHo Rooms, Moscow night club.

MIss Russia Elmira Abdrazakova pauses for photographers at SoHo Rooms, Moscow night club.

Lovely Elmira Abdrazakova, Miss Russia, was consigned to a back row, forced to wear a wide smile for the rest of the night. (Miss Abdrazakova is tougher than she looks. Six months ago, when she was elected Miss Russia, hundreds of racist knuckle draggers clogged her social network pages with hate messages, objecting that a woman with a Tatar father was to be Russia’s face to world. She disabled the pages and went on with being Miss Russia.)

On a lighter note, we were treated to singing by Emin Agalarov.

Emin is the son of Aras Agalarov, the Azeri-born Russian businessman who owns Crocus City, the Moscow venue for Miss Universe and the largest shopping mall in all of Russia. In a dynastic coupling, Emin is married to Leila Aliyeva, the daughter of the President of Azerbaijan.

The whole thing seemed to shaping up a huge joke on NBC, the American network with broadcast rights. Headline: Billionaire Russian Oligarch Buys a Miss Universe Contest to give Karaoke Singing Son Worldwide TV Exposure.

In reality, Emin turned out to be a surprisingly good singer – energetic, passionate and a good voice.

Miss Myanmar, Moe Set Wine, was the first contestant to represent her country in the MIss Universe contest since 1961. The 25-year-old MIss has a business degree from California Lutheran University.

Miss Myanmar, Moe Set Wine, was the first contestant to represent her country in the MIss Universe contest since 1961. The 25-year-old MIss has a business degree from California Lutheran University.


He was a refreshing contrast to the other entertainer, Steven Tyler, the deeply aged, 65-year-old American veteran of Aerosmith. On his visit to Moscow, Tyler should have visited the Lenin mausoleum on Red Square to learn some embalming tips.

With Russia out, Russian state TV commentators dropped the cheerleading and started commenting.

Fortunately, Ksenia Sobchak, the Pasionaria of the anti-Putin opposition, had been summoned back from state television Siberia. Still off camera, she provided catty commentary. On Miss Switzerland: “Her lower half looks a bit fat.”

Invisible to TV viewers around the world was the political controversy over hosting the pageant in Russia. This summer Russia implemented “a gay propaganda law,” a vague piece of legislation designed to push openly gay behavior out of the public eye.

Miss Nicaragua, Nastassja Bolivar, performed well without all the artificiality and rumors of plastic surgery of her neighbor, across the Caribbean, Miss Venezuela. Bolivar also won Best National Costume for an amazing tropical feathers outfit.

Miss Nicaragua, Nastassja Bolivar, performed well without all the artificiality and rumors of plastic surgery of her neighbor, across the Caribbean, Miss Venezuela. Bolivar also won Best National Costume for an amazing tropical feathers outfit.

In August, Andy Cohen, last year’s Miss Universe male co-host, announced that he would not come here from the United States. He told E! News that, as an openly gay man, he would be “unsafe” in Russia.

Taking over as co-host, Thomas Roberts, a NBC reporter who is also openly gay, flew into Moscow with his new husband, Patrick D. Abner. Before and after the show, Roberts sharply criticized the law.

But on camera, at show time, he lost his voice, limiting himself to flashing his bright white smile and making forgettable comments. Maybe he was intimidated by Donald Trump, who sat scowling in the front row. Trump, who owns the Miss Universe Pageant, is notorious for shouting at people he barely knows: “You’re fired!”

Comic relief came from Philipp Kirkorov, the Russian pop singer, who blackens his eyebrows and goatee to look like an operatic version of Ivan the Terrible. Kirkorov is widely presumed to be gay, but he plays by Moscow rules: act as you please, just don’t say you are gay.

Hello, Miss Universe Jury! Beauty and charm come in all colors and accents! Here is Miss Ethiopia, Mhadere Tigabe, a 21-year-old student from Addis Abba.

Hello, Miss Universe Jury! Beauty and charm come in all colors and accents! Here is Miss Ethiopia, Mhadere Tigabe, a 21-year-old student from Addis Abba.

Kirkorov had a bright question for Miss Brazil – on the future of women in the workplace.

Miss Brazil, Jakelyne Olveira, launched into a smart response.

But, in the fast-paced show, her answer got lost in a cumbersome translation from Portuguese to English to Russian. That night, millions of Russians went to bed failing to learn that the President of Brazil is a woman.

So, there we were at the end, a choice among five finalists – all big-haired Latinas.

Africa was out. Europe was out. Mainland Asia was out.
Over the last eight years, five of the Miss Universes have been Latinas. Six, if you count Leila Lopes from Portuguese-speaking Angola.

Maybe it is time for the Miss Universe organizers to reshuffle the jury, open the windows, and let in the rest of the world.

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

13 Responses to “Latinas Rule! Africans, Asians and Europeans Pushed Aside in Moscow’s Miss Universe Contest”

  1. Guest says:

    What a stupid article! Europe and Asia is out? God please go back and learn some geography. According to you Spain is not considered a European country? And the Philippines not an Asian country? You have to understand that MU is a beauty contest and that means the contestants that stand out the most win. Now it happens that the latin countries just happen to produce candidates that stand out from the rest and get chosen for top 5. Why does this matter? You have to understand also that it’s stupid to group everyone as “latinas”, because the culture of each Latin American countries are different from each other and there are like 21 countries. So obviously with that many participants, a few latinas might get into the final

  2. Pret Orian says:

    Dear James,
    As a reporter in charge of communicating facts to the world you must know that Latin America has been a huge melting pot for centuries.
    As an example, Miss Venezuela is half Swiss so there you have your very desired European country (maybe Spain has been moved to other continent without our knowledge)
    Please learn a little bit of history about European and African immigrants and the most current trend of big Asian population coming to Latin America before making such a rush judgment.
    The truth is that Latinas represent many continents at once…little more research and less bias please :o )

    • James Brooke jbrooke says:

      Pret,
      The world “Latina” represents more culture these days than race or religion. (See my earlier column “Is Brazil Turning Protestant?” Spanish people are happy to be called Latinos. FYI I lived and worked for 10 years in South America, speak fluent Spanish and Portuguese. The issue is not whether I like — or do not like — Latinas (I do!) The issue is: why did the jury go through 86 candidates and end up with five Latina finalists?

      • Txelo says:

        Lo que tiene uno que aguantar!
        Estimado James Brooke. Rara, muy rara vez comento artículos. Lo pienso un poquito y acabo diciendo que no vale la pena. Hoy lo hago por la pequeñez de algunos comentarios que desestiman su preparación profesional, su lectura y su afán de contar no sólo lo vano de estos certámenes. “Cada cosa es del color del cristal con que se mira.”
        Seguro que Ksenia Sobchak tiene una biografía de Dolores Ibárruri! Saludos.

      • LATIN LOVER says:

        You are correct James. “LATINO” is a term with cultural and NO “racial” connotations. People play the “race” card for convenience. Latin women make it to the finals because of quality and no quantity.

        • vanc says:

          But why do the always choose the white or whitest of the latin girls what wrong with brown latin girls ?

  3. Gabriel says:

    It’s true, you’re not very good at geography, but I, for one, enjoyed your humor. Maybe you should be a stand up comedian?

  4. James Brooke jbrooke says:

    umm, thanks, but where did I get my geography wrong?
    Nicaragua is across the Caribbean from Venezuela
    Spain bequeathed to much Latin America the Spanish language and culture
    Spain colonized the Philippines (not part of mainland Asia) from 1565 to 1898…
    Jim

    • John says:

      Well, for your information – “Latina” – refers only to latin American countries. Western heisphere, south of the United States border, period. Sure, Spain contributed greatly to this melting pot, as well as to the Philippines. But there are no Latinas in Spain unless they’re originally from latin America. Same with the Philippines. Filippinas are not Latinas. To say they have “hispanic” origins is okay, but they are not Latinas unless they originate from latin America. Class dismissed.

      • LATIN LOVER says:

        John, do you know that the term “Latin” comes from European people whose language derives from “Latin”? Spaniards, Portuguese, French, Italians, and Romanians are “Latins”. Look at the colonized areas in Latin America to figure out why those people are called “Latins”. Of course, the term “Latin” is applied to all people originally from Latin countries. Now, the term Latin is not similar to Hispanics. “Hispanics” are people whose heritage or culture can be traced to Spain. Example: Brazilians are Latins, but no Hispanics.

  5. LT says:

    Hi James,

    Apparently, people nowadays seem to have a very limited sense of humor and an overdose of political correctness . I, for one, did not see anything wrong with your use of “Latina”. I was born in the Philippines, came to the USA when I was 14, studied Spanish in high school and majored in it in college (including a semester in Spain). Culturally, the Philippines is very much Latino as it is Asian. I get your drift…

    Perhaps, if you used “Hispanic”, people would not have gotten so riled up. Then again, some will still complain that Brazil isn’t Hispanic, it’s Lusophone! Can’t please everyone, I guess. I was entertained by your article regardless :-)

  6. Arby says:

    James –

    Miss Nicaragua, Nastasja Bolivar, proudly went on local television and showed off her new nose – which she got FOR the Miss Universe pageant. The same cosmetic procedure that Miss Venezuela may have gotten. Isler is one of the few Miss Venezuela’s that did not have a myriad of cosmetic procedures done prior to the pageant. She had the CONFIDENCE and poise. Gabriela owned the stage that night and that is undeniable.

    I did not want to see Venezuela win AGAIN but the girl just had “it” on finals night. It was sad not to see Miss France or Miss Israel included in the top 16. But did you see them perform in the preliminary competition? They were so bland and lifeless on stage. Venezuela was the best prepared and most deserving. If the other contestants wanted it bad enough – they would “elbow” their way to the front and come out as winners.

About

About

James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.

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