The national costume for Miss Universe Jamaica 2019 was based on the Jamaican legend Annie Palmer, the infamous White Witch of Rose Hall, and immediately, the social-media-using public blasted the choice as tone-deaf, inappropriate, and insensitive. Amid all the furore, Miss Universe Jamaica organisers Karl Williams and Mark McDermoth of Uzuri International stand firm with their design and what they say it represents. The duo is claiming success in a mission to coax educational discourse.
“It was not just an idea that came out of nowhere. We wanted to use a Jamaican icon that was in the same parish that Iana Tickle Garcia is from. We wanted to pay homage to her place of origin. Most importantly, her sponsors were Rose Hall Developments. So we thought, ‘Wow, this would be fitting if we showcased Rose Hall Great House’,” the designer told The Gleaner.
Tickle Garcia’s costume comes with a towering headpiece, a giant fan of feathers across her shoulders, and satin ruffles flaired from her waist, all centred by a bejewelled white gown, a sparkling representation of the legend of the White Witch. McDermoth explained that the white, embellished gown was not a celebration of the murderous voodoo priestess whom Jamaican youngsters grow up hearing about but a spotlight on the great house itself.
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“The Jamaican icon that we’re really celebrating is the great house, but of course, the great house, in and of itself, wasn’t as interesting. So we thought we would look at telling the story of the history of the great house and the legend of Annie Palmer,” he said. “We weren’t telling the story to endorse what the legend says Annie Palmer did. So we weren’t extolling the ‘virtues’ of Annie Palmer.”
Michelle Parkes of Rose Hall Developments, the reigning queen’s sponsor, joined Uzuri in support of the contestant’s costume.
“There is controversy around everything, and controversy is not necessarily negative. I think that half of Jamaica agrees with it, and half don’t. Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Parkes told The Gleaner. She added, “I’m insulted because Rose Hall has invested millions of dollars in Jamaica’s economy … millions of dollars in Montego Bay and in Jamaica. So to say that we would have used something like this as a ploy to get publicity is insulting to Rose Hall.”
While Parkes made it clear that Rose Hall Developments had no input in the design, she stated, “Personally, I believe it was a very fresh and different take on a lot of the costumes that we have seen over the years. It presented well on stage. The legend has made Rose Hall Great House in Montego Bay a wonderful place to experience history and culture. The legend of Annie Palmer is also a love story, and that is what sells. That is what captures the hearts of people.”
According to McDermoth, Uzuri International intends to stoke dialogue with its designs. “I think this is really incredible, that now, more people are talking about a part of our history. But I think what we need to do now is talk more about other things in Jamaica that are problems, like crime, bleaching, and all sorts of things. Hopefully, now that we have this out in the open, we can talk, debate, and have dialogue about those things,” he said.