A LIGHT FOR ANGOLA: Leila Lopes, Miss Angola 2011, was crowned Miss Universe on September 12. She is the first Angolan to win the honor. (Darren Decker/Newscom Photo)
Newly crowned Miss Universe Leila Lopes isn’t your average beauty queen. Lopes “wants to help her native Angola further escape a history of war and impoverishment and said she plans to focus on combating HIV around the globe,” Associated Press reported.
Her win raises the question: Can beauty pageants be redemptive?
Opportunity to Highlight Angola’s Troubles
The Washington Post outlined Angola’s troubled history in light of Lopes’ win. That history includes a 27-year civil war, during which 300,000-500,000 people died. As of 2009, 38 percent of Angolans lived in poverty. The life expectancy for both men and women in this country of south-central Africa is 50-53 years, and 2 percent of the population suffers from HIV or AIDS, the article said.
Reminder That Beauty Comes from Within
Lopes is a business management student in Great Britain. When questoned about what physical traits she would change if she could, Lopes said she was satisfied with the way God created her and wouldn’t change a thing. “I consider myself a woman endowed with inner beauty. I have acquired many wonderful principles from my family and I intend to follow these for the rest of my life,” she said.
Jude and broadcast journalist Connie Chung echoed these sentiments, telling Associated Press, “You have to keep in mind that these women are not objects just to be looked at. They’re to be taken seriously. I want to choose somebody I take seriously and the world takes seriously, too.”
Not everyone was so generous though. At The Huffington Post Lili Gil reported that seven-of-16 semifinalists were Latinas and their fans took to Twitter to complain that some of these women didn’t emerge as finalists.
Asked about being one of the few blacks ever crowned Miss Universe, Lopes said “any racist needs to seek help” and “it’s not normal in the 21st century to think in that way.”
At The Root, Jenée Desmond-Harris offered this fitting conclusion, “Remember Satoshi Kanazawa, the professor [and former Psychology Today blogger] who distorted facts to make a “scientific” claim that black women were less attractive? We’d love it if the new Miss Universe could have a word with him at some point during her reign.”
What do you think? Are beauty pageants ever appropriate for Christians or does Lopes make us think harder about their value?
The Book of Mormon, a play by the creators of South Park about two Mormon missionaries to Uganda, won nine Tony awards Sunday night, including Best Musical, but according to an April review that was reprinted at The Root this week, its plot is nothing to celebrate. Observes writer Janice C. Simpson:
If you’re black and your skin is even a little thin, there’s plenty in this show to rub you the wrong way, too. The Ugandans whom the missionaries encounter are plagued by poverty, AIDS and an evil warlord who forcibly subjects women to circumcision. Despite these woes, the villagers are portrayed as good-hearted, if simple-minded, people. One keeps referring to an old battered typewriter as her “texting machine.” Another stomps around talking about raping babies because he believes that doing so will rid him of HIV. A dream sequence is set in hell, where the devil’s main disciples are Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, the serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, and Johnnie Cochran, who, a song explains, is there for his part in helping to free O.J.
Simpson notes that the material is “played for can’t-you-take-a-joke laughs,” but she didn’t find the subject matter funny.
RACE, RELIGION & SATIRE: The cast of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon" during the show's opening night in March.
“Parker and Stone [the show’s creators], who call themselves libertarians, have gotten away with this kind of cavalier attitude toward serious subjects for years because of their ability to sugarcoat it with faux irony,” Simpson declares before accusing the South Park provocateurs of “indulging in cultural colonialism of the most insidious kind.”
Sure, the head villager is seen as a wise man, and his daughter is the doe-eyed idealist who brings the sides together. But the show doesn’t work unless the villagers are seen mainly as noble savages who need white people to show them the way to enlightenment. And in the end, their salvation comes from believing in the white missionaries who have been dropped into their midst.
At The Grio, Earl Ofari Hutchinson read the play differently, writing today that it “skewers Mormons for the church’s decades of racial prejudice and for their prodigious proselytizing activities in Africa.” Hutchinson said the church’s history will “saddle” Mormon presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman with “the heavy burden of the religion’s racial history,” which he said includes its refusal to publicly apologize for its “long, stubborn, and dogmatic defense of alleged biblical encoded racism.”
Perhaps in anticipation of the musical’s Tony Award domination, Mark Oppenheimer reported on the black Latter Day Saints Genesis Group in his latest New York Times column. Oppenheimer attended a picnic with 300 members of the group in Utah and told stories of how they, as black Mormons, grapple with their church’s history of racial prejudice.
Oppenheimer quotes Max Perry Mueller, who is reportedly writing a dissertation at Harvard on African Americans and the Mormon church. Mueller told Oppenheimer that the Latter Day Saints have “made a very sincere effort” to welcome blacks, but few African Americans have joined. He also said the notion that until recently Mormons were “exceptionally exclusionary or racist is probably unfair” because “while no other large, predominantly white church barred blacks from the clergy in the 1970s, none was particularly integrated or had notable black leaders, either.”
If you’ve seen The Book of Mormon, what do you think? Is it racist, anti-religious, or just an equal-opportunity offender that shouldn’t be taken that seriously?
Society is crying out for answers that only the church has, but it often wants them minus the values that make the church Christian. We should resist the temptation to conceal our full message for the sake of secular acceptance.
As the pastor of a church with a deep desire to love others as Christ would, I’ve recently been telling folks, “If you only read one book this year, then you must read The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.” And that’s saying a lot, given that my own book just came out! I feel that strongly about Stearns’s message.
The other night as I rode the subway home from a meeting, I took my seat in the middle of a condom rally. Yes, that’s right, a condom rally. When I sat down, I was across from two teenagers, a boy and a girl, who were sitting across from two of their friends who were standing in front of the subway-car doors. This set of parallel teenagers each had condoms in their hands and were exchanging them with each other by airborne express. The pair I was sitting across from were remarking on how cool they thought it was that their friends’ school handed out condoms in bulk.