ATLANTA–Miss South Africa was crowned Miss Universe on Sunday in Atlanta after a lavish ceremony filled with glitter and heartfelt speeches about female empowerment.
Zozibini Tunzi, 26, finished first ahead of the Puerto Rican and Mexican finalists in a flashy televised event, hosted by American comic turned TV personality Steve Television personalities Vanessa Lachey and Olivia Culpo served as backstage commentators, and a panel of seven women determined the winner.
Tunzi earned cheers during her closing speech, a new segment of the competition, in which she talked about wanting to empower young women to feel confident.
"I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful," she said.
"I think that it is time that that stops today," she said to thunderous applause. Tunzi beat more than 90 contestants from around the globe in the 68th instalment of Miss Universe, which was held in Atlanta's Tyler Perry Studios.
The two favorites ahead of the competition, Miss Thailand Paweensuda Saetan-Drouin and Miss Philippines Gazini Ganados, did not make it to the final 10.
The Philippines' Catriona Gray, who presented Tunzi with the crown, took home the Miss Universe crown in 2018. Although she did not make the finals, Miss Myanmar Swe Zin Htet made waves last week when she came out as the competition's first openly gay contestant.
"I have that platform that, if I say that I'm a lesbian, it will have a big impact on the LGBTQ community back in Burma," Htet told People magazine, using her country's historic name.
Homosexuality is illegal in the southeast Asian country and is punishable by up to life in prison. In 2018, the competition also featured Miss Spain Angela Ponce, who blazed a trail as Miss Universe's first transgender contestant.
But the pageant has had a controversial past. Multiple contestants have alleged that US President Donald Trump would regularly enter the competitors' changing room while he owned the organization from 1996-2015.
Additionally, Miss Universe continues to host the swimsuit competition, which has drawn criticism for objectifying the contestants, although that part of the pageant was not televised.