Miss Mexico was crowned the winner of the much-delayed Miss Universe 2021 contest on Sunday, but it was the defiant stand taken by the contestant from Myanmar that inspired the biggest reaction online.
Using the platform to bring the attention of the world to the plight of her country, 22-year-old Thuzar Wint Lwin denounced the military junta that displaced Myanmar’s democratically elected government in a coup on 1 February.
Thuzar Wint Lwin had made it through to the pageant’s final on Sunday involving the top 21 contestants, with the event held at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
In her final comments at the competition, she spoke in Burmese as a video displayed on a screen behind her showed photos of her attending the street protests in Myanmar that have continued despite a brutal and deadly police crackdown.
“Our people are dying and being shot by the military every day,” she said. “I would like to urge everyone to speak out about Myanmar. As Miss Universe Myanmar, since the military coup, I have been speaking out as much as I can.”
Thuzar Wint Lwin may have missed out on the main award, but she was given first place in the National Costume segment of the pageant for her “powerful” display in traditional Burmese beads. During the National Costume display she held up a banner that read, in English, “Pray for Myanmar”.
Despite the international acclaim she has received, Thuzar Wint Lwin has said she fears for her safety if she returns to Myanmar now.
She is among a number of celebrities who have spoken out against the junta as part of the street protests, which have seen some 5,000 people arrested including several high-profile figures.
In an interview with the New York Times before she left Myanmar for the Miss Universe pageant, she had said: “They are killing our people like animals. Where is the humanity? Please help us. We are helpless here.
“The soldiers patrol the city every day and sometimes they set up roadblocks to harass the people coming through. 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.”
Last week, a former beauty queen named Htar Htet Htet posted pictures of herself in combat fatigues and with an assault rifle on her social media, telling followers she was undergoing arms training and was joining rebel forces against the military. She told her followers: “I will fight back as much as I can. I am ready and prepared to give up everything. I am even ready to pay with my life.”
Thuzar Wint Lwin’s was not the only powerful statement made at the pageant. Miss Singapore – Bernadette Belle Wu Ong — was widely praised for using the National Costume segment to wear a banner, in the colours of the Singapore flag, that read “Stop Asian Hate”.
At the end of the competition in Florida, Mexico’s contestant Andrea Meza, 26, was crowned Miss Universe 2021.