Asya Branch is the first black woman to represent Mississippi in the Miss America pageant and the first contestant from Mississippi to take the crown of Miss USA back home. She describes herself as “a daughter, a sister, a scholar, a community and campus leader, a nanny for a special needs child.”
There is a widespread assumption that pageant events are superficial exercises in saying insincere messages and strutting around in beachwear. Some say this can be empowering because it’s body positive and boosts confidence; others say it’s out-of-date and a sign of the patriarchy.
Misbehaviour, a movie about the 1970 Miss World beauty competition in London, explores these different perspectives. At one point in the trailer, Keira Knightley’s character asks, “Why should any woman have to earn her place in the world by looking a particular way?” Addressing two men, she adds, “You don’t. He doesn’t. Why should we?” And yet, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character, Jennifer Hosten, suggests hopefully, “If I win, there will be little girls who might start to believe they have a place in the world.” Hosten was a real person. She was Miss Grenada and the first black woman to win Miss World.
Miss America’s website states that young women are able to use “the national platform to educate millions of Americans on issues facing the nation.” Different girls choose to speak on behalf of different causes that mean something to them.
Asya Branch opened up about her own struggles and why she has chosen to help children with an incarcerated parent. Reflecting on her own personal experiences, she explained, “Having the backbone and financial base of our family stripped away through incarceration and arrest left me hurt, confused, scared, bullied, and withdrawn.”
Her father was imprisoned for 10 years and it seriously affected her and her eight siblings.
Her cause might have even been cathartic for her. As she points out, helping others helped her heal, too: “That’s really what keeps me going, is hearing other people’s stories and being able to share mine with them to show that, you know, we’ve been through the same things.”
Having a good example and someone to look up to is crucial for kids and teens, especially when they’re vulnerable and are still forming their characters, habits, and social circles.
“And so often, children of incarcerated parents fall into these negative statistics because they don’t have any guidance, and what I want to do, is to help them find their way and keep them on the right track, have someone who cares about them and wants to see them succeed,” Asya Branch told CBS News.
In 2018, Asya participated in a roundtable at the White House on criminal justice reform. She said that this resulted in backlash for her, but she felt that this was her opportunity to speak up on a cause that was very important to her.
Branch also performed the national anthem at Trump’s rally in Southaven, Mississippi. She told People magazine that this was scheduled for her while she was under contractual obligation with the Miss Mississippi Corp.
(One-term President Donald Trump used to own Miss USA, before selling it to the WME/IMG agency.)
It’s hard to tell what Asya’s political beliefs are individually, given all the PR and contractual obligations that sometimes go along with pageantry. What we do know is that she is a good singer and she has posted her covers of Billie Eilish, Diplo and Noah Cyrus on Instagram before. Check this out:
Asya also started her own cosmetics line. The website is still under construction or reconstruction and seems to suggest that she’s currently too busy with her new title of Miss USA: “We are so sorry for any inconveniences, but the store owner has won Miss USA and will be unable to fulfill any additional purchases at this time!” It seems like if you made a purchase before the win, it might have been kindly packed by Asya herself! Gotta respect the hustle. You can check out her products on Instagram page and keep an eye on the website if you want to get some of that pageant glam for yourself.