When Jennifer Hosten first arrived within the U.Okay. from Grenada for the 1970 Miss World contest, she had no concept there could be such a media frenzy across the competitors—and its members. She shortly realized that she must do the perfect she might to face out. “Girls from small nations, and significantly girls of shade, like myself, actually weren’t anticipated to be greater than a quantity within the contest,” she tells TIME, trying again 50 years later.
However Hosten not solely stood out—she went on to take house the highest honors, turning into the primary Black lady to win the worldwide magnificence pageant because it was established in 1951. However that wasn’t the one factor that made the 1970 competitors, which came about in London’s Royal Albert Corridor, completely different from years previous. It additionally featured two contestants from South Africa on the top of apartheid: Pearl Janssen, a Black lady who got here in second within the competitors behind Hosten, and Jillian Jessup, a white lady. And it was disrupted on the night time of the competitors by British girls’s liberation protesters.
These occasions, in addition to Hosten’s expertise, are the topic of a brand new movie by director Philippa Lowthorpe, Misbehaviour, starring Gugu Mbatha-Uncooked as Hosten and Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley as real-life feminist activists Sally Alexander and Jo Robinson. The competition was watched by greater than 22 million individuals within the U.Okay., and greater than 100 million individuals worldwide, and has since been thought-about a touchstone within the girls’s liberation motion within the U.Okay.. Simply 4 months later, in March 1971, 1000’s of ladies, males and youngsters took half within the motion’s first main demonstration in London.
‘Very pragmatic expectations’
Hosten grew up underneath British rule in Grenada, then a colonial island within the West Indies, which gained independence in 1974. In her autobiography revealed earlier this 12 months, Miss World 1970: How I Entered a Pageant and Wound Up Making Historical past, Hosten describes how she labored as an airline attendant and had an curiosity in broadcast journalism as a younger lady, earlier than a buddy inspired her to enter the Miss Grenada competitors, which was a stepping stone to the Miss World contest.
However not everybody had such favorable views of Miss World. “That competitors is one massive fats celebration of oppression,” says Buckley’s character Jo Robinson within the movie, because the British feminist activists put together to protest the competition on the grounds that it was antiquated, sexist and objectified girls. Hosten says she was accustomed to the ladies’s liberation motion and shared an affinity on one stage with the protesters across the common struggles that girls nonetheless face at this time, similar to equal pay and alternatives.
However trying again, their actions across the contest had been laborious to grasp; Hosten, who was 23 on the time, noticed her participation within the contest as her personal alternative, not one which was being made for her, nor one which was exploitative. “I noticed [the contest] as a chance, to journey, to characterize Grenada, and to make some cash if I gained. I had some very pragmatic expectations. I noticed it much less as objectification, however I feel that a few of the experiences throughout the contest made us suppose that means for positive,” she says. “Once I first arrived, it wasn’t my thought that I used to be being exploited. If I had thought that, I wouldn’t have taken half.”
The competition additionally came about in opposition to the political backdrop of the Vietnam Battle, and one of many prizes for the newly topped Miss World was a tour of Vietnam with Bob Hope to entertain U.S. troops, which Hosten did later in 1970. There was additionally the truth that Pearl Janssen, the Black consultant from South Africa (who was given the title Miss Africa South), “had been despatched virtually as a totem from her nation,” says Hosten. For Hosten, that ought to have been the difficulty for the ladies’s liberation motion to deal with as a substitute, and he or she says the protesters by no means reached out to the contestants to clarify what they had been attempting to do.
‘An enormous step ahead’
The night time of the competitors noticed the ladies’s liberation protesters, together with Alexander and Robinson, sneak into the Royal Albert Corridor venue incognito, with flour, greens and flyers of their purses, able to launch the protest when all of the Miss World contestants had been on-stage. In an interview earlier this 12 months, the ladies stated that their intention was to criticize the competition organizers, not the contestants, and that staging the protest that means would have most affect on the night time. But the protesters turned infuriated when host Bob Hope began telling misogynistic jokes, and they determined to launch the protest early whereas Hope was doing his bit, placing a pause to the proceedings for about 15 minutes. “It was a shock after we regarded by way of the curtain and noticed what was occurring,” says Hosten. “Our preliminary response was questioning whether or not the competition was going to proceed, or whether or not that will be the top and if all our preparations had been for nothing.”
It was one other shock when the occasion regrouped and Hosten was introduced the winner. “I used to be joyful that I had reached the finals, however then I used to be elated to win,” she says. She was woke up the subsequent day by a loud knock on the door from the housekeeper, who stated that she wished to see what Miss World regarded like with out make-up on. Hosten had instantly grow to be a famous person, however delight was shortly dampened by the media’s response. “I had anticipated the newspapers to say, Grenada has gained, or one thing fairly flattering. As an alternative, the headline stated, Miss World is Black, and is she probably the most lovely lady on the earth?” Lower than constructive headlines over Hosten’s win and Janssen’s second place, and lamentations that competitors favourite Miss Sweden hadn’t gained, dominated within the rapid aftermath. “That was moderately unhappy, as a result of that took away rather a lot from the sensation of elation that I might have felt in any other case,” says Hosten.
However the affect of the win would have longer-lasting impacts, says Mbatha-Uncooked, the actor who performs Hosten in Misbehaviour. “Taking a look at representations of magnificence on the time, there weren’t actually many alternatives for ladies of shade to be perceived as a magnificence icon. That’s actually modified in leaps and bounds, and in not simply magnificence,” she says. “It’s symbolic optically by way of what little women can have a look at, and see who will get to win, who will get to be center-stage, and who will get to be celebrated in that means. For Jennifer to win the competitors, that was an enormous step ahead for Grenada, for Jennifer on a private stage, and for ladies of shade as an entire at the moment.”
‘We’ve a lot additional to go’
Trying again on outdated diaries from the 1970 competitors prompted Hosten to put in writing her autobiography. “I believed it was necessary to indicate that my life didn’t finish on the finish of my 12 months as Miss World,” she says. The competitors actually was a springboard for Hosten to maneuver onto different adventures; after touring with Hope and fulfilling her duties as Miss World on a global tour, she later turned a senior diplomat for Grenada, labored in worldwide improvement, began her personal enterprise, and educated as a psychotherapist. Though the expertise of profitable Miss World helped form her, she says, it didn’t outline her. “I’ve made an effort all through my life to outline my very own life, and to indicate that girls can do all types of issues.”
In 2010, Jennifer obtained a name from the BBC, asking if she would take part in a radio broadcast interviewing all the important thing members of the 1970 pageant, together with Alexander and Robinson. It was the primary time she had met the activists, and whereas she writes that she discovered them intense throughout the interview, “regardless of many years of being positioned in opposition to at least one one other within the narrative that resulted from the 1970 pageant, we discovered we had extra in widespread than anticipated.” It was that reunion program that caught the eye of producers, and led to the making of Misbehaviour.
This 12 months marks not solely half a century since Hosten’s historic win, but additionally the primary time that Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA are all girls of shade. Whereas there’s nonetheless a lot to be debated in regards to the function of pageants within the first place, Hosten says the present state of the contests feels bittersweet. “Girls mustn’t simply be considering of how wherein bodily magnificence can profit them. There are numerous different methods wherein girls can shine.” And there’s loads of room for enchancment by way of illustration, as properly. “The truth that we’re nonetheless speaking about [women of color winning pageants] as if it’s an anomaly tells me that we now have a lot additional to go,” she says.