Miss Mexico was proclaimed Miss Universe on Sunday in Florida after Miss Myanmar used her moment on stage to call attention to her country’s bloody military coup.
The Miss Universe pageant returned on television on Sunday night in Florida, despite being canceled for the first time in 2020 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
Andrea Meza, 26, took first place in a flashy televised event organized by American actor Mario Lopez and television personality Olivia Culpo, ahead of the Brazilian and Peruvian finalists.
Cheslie Kryst, Paulina Vega, and Demi-Leigh Tebow (the 2017 Miss Universe nominee) acted as competition analysts and experts, and the winner was decided by an eight-woman jury.
Meza tearfully crossed the catwalk as Miss Universe for the first time, before running out for a group hug with the other contestants, dressed in a dazzling red evening gown.
In the 69th edition of Miss Universe, Meza defeated more than 70 competitors from all over the world at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin, who placed in the top 21, made headlines in the days leading up to the final competition as she used her moment in the spotlight to draw attention to the country’s coup.
“Our people are dying and being shot by the military every day,” she said during her biographical video, which showed photos of her taking part in the anti-coup protests. “Therefore I would like to urge everyone to speak out about Myanmar.”
She also received the award for best national costume, as she carried an ensemble beaded in typical Burmese designs and holding up a sign that read “Pray for Myanmar” during the competition segment on Thursday.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army deposed civilian chief Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1.
According to a local monitoring organization, security forces have killed at least 796 civilians since then, while almost 4,000 others have been arrested.
Miss Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong, who did not place in the top 21, used the national costume section of the competition to make a political point.
She turned around in a glittering red bodysuit and matching thigh-high boots to expose her scarf, which was printed with the words “Stop Asian Hate” in the colors of the Singaporean flag.
“What is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence?” she wrote on Instagram alongside pictures of her outfit.
In the past year, activists have blamed former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, especially his frequent portrayal of Covid-19 as the “China virus,” for an increase in anti-Asian violence in the United States.
In the past, the pageant has been chastised for objectifying the contestants.
The competition’s profile has changed in recent years, with a greater emphasis on female empowerment and activism.