It was during a week night in a Maryland superb and I was competing for scholarships as a contestant in a Miss America local. I wasn’t the favorite to win and my sheer existence there was looked upon as a joke. No one took me serious. Even my cheering posse left, as they were certain we were all wasting our time. But, win was exactly what I did and it qualified me to run for Miss Maryland, where I would walk away as 2nd runner-up and Preliminary Talent Winner. I was a beauty queen. Yup, I said it. Watching Vanessa Williams win Miss America made me believe that I could do it too. Brown and Black girls like me weren’t supposed to win. But win is exactly what I did, earning thousands of dollars toward completing my education at Howard University and arming me with skills. Skills that have aided in navigating the most uncomfortable situations and conversations with grace and dignity. My participation was predicated on education and earning scholarship funds. Not being vain or how many doors winning a pageant of that stature would provide me with. That was then. 1970 was a different ballgame with a shifted tone and ideal.
The 70’s were hands down one of our most tumultuous periods in global history. Young men were dying in Vietnam, there were White House shenanigans, civil and human rights were yet again being challenged and in the midst of it all was the Miss World pageant. Miss World crowned the first Black winner of beauty pageant ever with the runner up also being a woman of color – Jennifer Hosten. Many years later, history would repeat itself in America with Vanessa Willams and Suzette Charles during the Miss America pageant.
But, bubbling on the outside was the Womens liberation movement. Women were exhausted with being disrespected in life, at home and in the workplace. Misbehaviour marries these two events in the most creative, unusual way weaved together by director Philippa Lowthorpe.
The film couldn’t have dropped during a more appropriate time in history as it once again repeats itself. Women’s reproductive rights are being challenged. Women in politics continue to be discarded and disrespected no matter how qualified they are. Women in media are still eclipsed by men in all lanes of entertainment.
But, in 1970 Jennifer Hosten was the UK’s Vanessa Williams. She was the one, who when little brown and black girls gazed upon her face now knowing this was possible for them. Those same girls are now grown women who are seeking acceptance with an activist acumen. Gugu Mbatha-Raw completely embodies the grace, humility, intelligence and strong, resilient aura of Jennifer Hosten. Keira Knightly steps outside her usual period and into the Womens lib movement gracefully proving that she should never again be pigeon-holed moving forward.
Looking back on the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote, Misbehaviour, along with Mrs. America, The Glorias, etc… continue to shine a spotlight on an issue that has yet to be resolved, but hopefully will become accomplished in our lifetime.