The world's major pageants have undergone some major changes lately, with some deciding to alter the format of their competitions by dropping controversial elements such as the swimsuit competition in favor of talent showcases. Others have become more inclusive in who is represented and competes. But one contestant in this year's Miss Universe pageant took matters into her own hands, using her time in the world's spotlight to do something that no one in the show's history has done before. Read on to see how the ground-breaking event unfolded.
Miss Myanmar protested her country's leaders during the Miss Universe competition.
Pageants are traditionally a time where contestants will take the opportunity to highlight the places they represent proudly. But while competing in the Miss Universe pageant on May 16, Ma Thuzar Wint Lwin, Miss Myanmar, broke with tradition and used the opportunity to protest her country's leaders and draw attention to the military junta that violently overthrew the country's government on Feb. 1, Reuters reports.
"Our people are dying and being shot by the military every day," said in a video message during the competition. "I would like to urge everyone to speak about Myanmar. As Miss Universe Myanmar since the coup, I have been speaking out as much as I can."
She held a sign on stage that read "Pray for Myanmar."
But it wasn't just her spoken interviews that she used to draw attention to the issues in her home country. While competing in the national costume section of the competition on May 13, Thuzar Wint Lwin walked across the stage while holding a "Pray for Myanmar" sign, ultimately earning the top spot in that part of the contest.
"They are killing our people like animals," she told The New York Times in an interview before leaving Myanmar to compete at the show in Florida. "Where is the humanity? We are helpless here."
She fears she won't be able to return home to Myanmar after protesting the military junta.
Thuzar Wint Lwin has fought to bring awareness to the coup in Myanmar, which has seen at least 790 people killed by security forces and nearly 4,000 people actively detained, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group. But after her outspoken statements—as well as having participated in protests and donating her savings to the families of those killed—she says she won't be able to return home safely and isn't sure where she will go next, Yahoo News reports.
"The soldiers patrol the city every day and sometimes they set up roadblocks to harass the people coming through," she said in a Facebook post leading up to the competition. "In some cases, they fire without hesitation. We are scared of our own soldiers. Whenever we see one, all we feel is anger and fear."
The Miss America pageant has also seen contestants use the spotlight for a cause.
But while this is the first time a Miss Universe contestant has used the stage as an opportunity to call out their country's leaders, other pageants have been host to some forms of activism. During the 2018 Miss America pageant, Miss Michigan drew attention to the drinking water crisis created by lead pipes in her home state's city of Flint.
While introducing herself, Emily Sioma said she was "from the state with 84 percent of the U.S.'s fresh water—but none for its residents to drink." While she didn't go on to the competition's finals, her comments were widely praised on social media for drawing attention to the contamination, which had been blamed for at least 12 deaths, BBC reports.