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H'Hen Nie's Pageant Win Sparks National Conversation on Racial Diversity

Vietnam’s new Miss Universe, 25-year-old H’Hen Nie from the E De ethnic minority in Dak Lak Province, has quickly become one of the most beloved winners in the history of the contest in the country.

Last Saturday, Vietnam awarded its most recent Miss Universe Vietnam title to Nie, who hails from the Central Highlands' province of Dak Lak. She has been working as a freelance model in Saigon in recent years. Nie immediately won over audience members from around the country thanks to her articulate interview answers and nimble catwalk performance.

Unsurprisingly, Nie’s ethnic identity has also become the center of attention, but in an overwhelmingly positive way.

“The moment H’Hen was announced the winner, I was overjoyed with pride. I jumped off my seat when the emcee said her name,” H’Hinh Mlo, an E De student at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Saigon, told Tuoi Tre. “I believe that, in the future, there will be more children of the Central Highlands reaching [Nie’s] level of success.”

Nie’s beauty doesn’t fit into the mold of past Miss Universe contests, which tended to favor candidates with “traditional” attributes: long hair, fair skin and a round face with small, unimposing features. However, many netizens – including Mlo – felt that her physique and skin color are perfect to represent new Vietnamese women.

For Nie – who decided to rock the final event of the beauty pageant with a boyish Twiggy-inspired bob – winning the top honor was just the beginning.

“The crown itself was heavy so I felt very pressured at that moment. But I hope that my story can help encourage the audience,” she shared with VTV in an interview. “I know that my appearance is different from past winners.”

Video via Kenh14.

While H’Hen Nie’s darker skin color and different upbringing were seen by many as positive signs regarding the diversity of Vietnam’s showbiz industry, some were less supportive of this inclusiveness. This only includes a small group of netizens, but unfortunately they were also the loudest critics.

The most notorious example of such animosity was journalist Dao Tuan from Lao Dong newspaper. Shortly after news broke that Nie had been crowned the next Miss Universe, Tuan posted an incendiary status on his personal Facebook account targeting the model.

In the racist commentary, he mocked Nie’s name and compared her skin color to that of a scrotum. He also said that she could “go straight into the woods and start howling” even if she “does not have a tail,” according to Tuoi Tre.

Netizens immediately picked apart the scandalous status, calling it “ridiculously racist” and collectively reporting his account to Facebook for discriminatory content to the point that Tuan was temporarily locked out of the site. He later defended the status, saying that by taking in part in the competition, H’Hen Nie should be prepared for all kinds of online criticism.

A day after Dao Tuan’s comment was posted, the Department of Press issued a directive to his office, requesting that Lao Dong discipline Tuan for uploading defamatory content towards Nie.

Since then, the journalist has removed the post and officially apologized to Nie in a media release.

“Although my personal Facebook page is still locked due to numerous reports, I still feel the need to send an apology to H’Hen Nie and everybody for my words,” he writes in the article. “It’s the price I have to pay for those statements that should be taboo for someone who works in the media as a reporter like me.”

[Photo via Tuoi Tre]


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