Before the majority of the contestants of last year’s Miss International pageant were known to the public, Gabon’s representative was already decided. The only delegates who were elected earlier than her were the Venezuelan and the Colombian representatives. A woman who was very determined and motivated to give her country a reason to be proud of – and a consecutive placement for Africa, the continent that is regularly snubbed by the Japan-based pageant – Reilly Mboumba Makaya came to Tokyo with the right attitude and mindset, not just to place in the annual pageant, but to win it all for her beloved Africa. Unfortunately, it seemed that her efforts were all in vain. She was unplaced, and the primary reason that many pageant fans could only think of was her skin color.
Japan has a bad history of ignoring black women in their annual pageant. It must be noted that the only two women of color who won the Miss International crown were crowned in 2004 and 2010, both of which were held in China. Two years ago, in Okinawa, Miss International appeared to be so generous to women of color, after putting one as a 2nd Runner-up, in the person of Sri Lanka’s Madusha Mayadunne. But the Okinawan atmosphere is not like the mainland Japanese, much more their way of thinking and culture. In fact, when the winner was announced – Japan’s very own Ikumi Yoshimatsu – the Okinawan fans did not celebrate it with much enthusiasm, as majority of those who were at the venue just left the Budokan Hall after the announcement of winners. Simply put, for as long as the pageant is being held in the capital city of Tokyo, the likelihood that a woman of color would place is close to zero.
When Reilly arrived in Tokyo, she immediately took the media attention as the one who would redeem Africa’s long delayed victory at the pageant. The last and only time that an African placed in the Top 3 of Miss International was in 1996, and she was from Tunisia, a country that’s much more associated with the Arab world than with the typical Africa. If one would ask how many “black” Africans had placed in Miss International’s 53-year history, the sad answer is four. One would argue that the Africans were usually unprepared when they competed at Miss International, but, not the same could be said with Reilly. Since April of last year, she had studied the pageant format, she asked for advice from various experts, she had ordered her gown from France, and even made her national costume with her own hands in order to make sure that it would truly represent her personal craftmanship as a proud Gabonese .
So, what really went wrong? Well, we could only speculate. But there was one thing that could not be denied. During the finals, she was well-applauded by the international guests, and her overall aura was flawless. Her toned body was one of the best among the 67 candidates, and the moment she came out in her white gown, with gold and silver highlights in the middle, she was simply a sight to behold.
The Miss International finals came up with a wonderful set of winners, and is believed to be one of the best in recent memory. However, the pageant night could have been perfect if Reilly made it to the Top 15, at the very least. She deserved it. Gabon deserved it. Africa deserved it. The black community in the world deserved it.
If only she was there…