explainer

How a video backstage at Miss Universe 2018 dragged Francesca Hung into a social media storm.

Backstage during proceedings for the 67th Miss Universe 2018 pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, an Instagram live video went terribly wrong.

Earlier this week, Miss USA Sarah Summer, Miss Colombia Valeria Morales and Miss Australia Francesca Hung were streaming an impromptu live Q&A style video to Morales’ 304,000 Instagram followers when the conversation turned to their fellow contestants Miss Vietnam H’Hen Nie and Miss Cambodia Rern Sinat.

Both happen to not speak English.

When asked what she thought of Miss Cambodia, 24-year-old Summers spoke about how tough it must be to not be able to speak English with the other women in the pageant.

“Miss Cambodia is here and doesn’t speak any English and not a single other person speaks her language. Can you imagine?” she said.

“[Miss Australia] Francesca [Hung] said ‘that would be so isolating,’ and I said ‘yes and just confusing all the time… Poor Cambodia.”

Moments later, Summers commented on how Miss Vietnam “pretends to know so much English”.

“She’s so cute and she pretends to know so much English and then you ask her a question after having a whole conversation with her and she goes,” Summers said before imitating her and laughing.

“She’s adorable.”

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Regardless of the intention behind the comments, the tone and content of the conversation didn’t come off particularly well.

But once Diet Prada, a fashion whistleblower Instagram account that most recently called out Dolce & Gabbana for racist behaviour – shared the video on their account on Friday, this story went viral.

“Regina George, is that you? This is basically like the most dramatic reality show, but condensed into 1 minute lol. @sarahrosesummers hopefully will prove that ignorance will not win you a @missuniverse title…whatever that means these days,” Diet Prada captioned snippets from the Instagram live.

“This is basically what normalized (sic) xenophobia looks like. If she’s trying to show empathy, the condescending, intolerant tone tells a different story. A reminder that you’re participating in a competition in a country/continent where English is NOT the primary language. Cc: @francesca.hung @valeriamoralesd @rern_sinat (Miss Cambodia).”

Regina George, is that you? This is basically like the most dramatic reality show, but condensed into 1 minute lol. @sarahrosesummers hopefully will prove that ignorance will not win you a @missuniverse title…whatever that means these days. This is basically what normalized xenophobia looks like. If she’s trying to show empathy, the condescending, intolerant tone tells a different story. A reminder that you’re participating in a competition in a country/continent where English is NOT the primary language. Cc: @francesca.hung @valeriamoralesd @rern_sinat (Miss Cambodia) • #sarahrosesummers #rernsinat #valeriamorales #francescahung #missuniverse2018 #missuniverse #missworld #missusa #missaustralia #misscolombia #beautyqueen #beautypageant #pageant #pageantlife #missamerica #wiwt #ootd #realityshow #meangirls #reginageorge #gossip #catty #lol #wtf #dietprada

A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada) on

While most of the criticism was aimed at Summers, who initiated and dominated the tone deaf conversation regarding the non-English speaking contestants, neither Morales nor Hung escaped untarnished.

Social media is full of commentary about how Summers’ remarks are a byproduct of President Trump’s America, that it’s no coincidence the country’s Miss Universe representative got herself involved in a racial scandal, and also happens to be caucasian.

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In Australia, Hung’s involvement in the video has made news headlines.

Watching the footage of the the Sydney-born model and Masters student who identifies as Chinese-Australian – her father is Chinese and her mother is Irish-Australian – the 24-year-old was seen looking visibly uncomfortable, laughing nervously throughout.

Behind the white smile of someone who’s competing in the world’s biggest beauty pageant was a woman who might’ve felt uncomfortable with where the conversation was going, and was put in the awkward position of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s our job to speak up and call out questionable behaviour, even when we’re merely a bystander to it.

But what does that look like on an Instagram live feed streaming to hundreds of thousands of people in real time? What does that look like when you’re in a professional capacity at work, in a meeting or during a presentation, and one of your colleagues says something that doesn’t sit right in front of clients?

If we look at this Instagram live video as a work presentation, it’s hard to picture what Hung should have done in that moment.

Summers has issued an official apology for her comments on Instagram.

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“Miss Universe is an opportunity for women from around the world to learn about each other’s cultures, life experiences, and views. We all come from different backgrounds and can grow alongside one another,” it began.

“In a moment where I intended to admire the courage of a few of my sisters, I said something that I now realize (sic) can be perceived as not respectful, and I apologize (sic). My life, friendships, and career revolve around me being a compassionate and empathetic woman.

“I would never intend to hurt another. I am grateful for opportunities to speak with Nat, Miss Cambodia, and H’Hen, Miss Vietnam, directly about this experience. These are the moments that matter most to me.”

Morales and Hung have not specifically addressed the incident nor issued a formal apology. Instead, Hung posted an image of herself with the women involved with a love heart emoji caption Instagram on Friday. Commenting on this post has been disabled.

Nie and Sinat also shared similar images on their Instagram accounts, Sinat captioning hers, “Our experience have given us the opportunity to show and learn different cultures. I speak the language of love, respect and understanding.”

❤️

A post shared by Francesca Hung (@francesca.hung) on

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All three women appear to be on the tail end of this social media storm, the eye having moved on to the next scandal. Depending on whether these contestants make it through to the top 20 ahead of the pageant’s final on December 17, it could flare up again, but for now, Summers’ apology has been reasonably well received.

At the heart of this story about ‘bitchy’ beauty pageants and “mean girl behaviour” is a learning opportunity.

We’re sure Francesca Hung has learnt her lesson.

Mamamia reached out to Francesca Hung for comment.

What is your opinion on this video? Do you think the social media storm was justified, or too harsh?

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