That was not Miss Uganda

I have been wondering how to respond to this video. I did not watch SNL this weekend (I do not usually watch it, but for some reason I watched a lot of TV this weekend. If I was ever going to watch it, this would have been the time.) But that is beside the point. I woke up to a great deal of angry Facebook statuses and fiery tweets about Kerry Washington and SNL’s show about Miss Universe.

This blog is about the Ugandan woman, and if Washington wants to portray Miss Uganda, we are definitely going to check her out. And grade the performance.

For those who have not got a chance to watch the clip. Here it is:

Let’s talk about representation. In the same show, Washington (who would have written the script alongside the writers) portrayed Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. When she was Michelle Obama, her hair looked just like Michelle’s usually does. She took the extra effort to even get a similar dress.

As Oprah Winfrey, she spotted frizzy curls and a larger bust size. They were not really talked down at, either.

Then the Miss Uganda

Now enter Miss Uganda (at 1:36). Does she look anything like Stella Nantumbwe? No, and even more importantly, she does not try to look like Stella.

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She does not sound like Stella or any other Ugandan woman- beauty pageant queen or not- that I know. When we look at this dialogue that starts at 1:36, “What is this? This is not right. Why is she? What are they? Who is he? How is she? When are we?….How are they? When is she? Who is what? When is where? What is how?”

The accent is wrong.

And, what is Miss Washington trying to say? Is she trying to say that Ugandans do not know how to construct sentences? What strikes me the most is that this Miss Uganda talks with questions; something that a substantial number of us do. We will say “You are where?” and inquire after someone with “You’re how?” For someone coming from another culture, having a conversation with someone like me, it might go something like:

Me: So I wanted to get that book. And I went where?

Them: <wondering what I went and if I am trying to make them guess>

Me, without pause because I was really not asking them a question: I went to Nakumatt.

I am obviously trying to cut Washington some slack here, not that she deserves it, but the dialogue I just tried to capture is not the same as Washington’s. It is also not my talent.

Side note: Kerry Washington, Stella’s talent was singing. Not talking. As an actress, you shouldn’t misrepresent people like that.

The other problem here is that the intended audience is American, and the average American only got to know where Uganda was on a map after that #StopKony2012 problem. They would probably not be attuned to nuances about Uganda and our mode of communication that I wished were there. But should any artist sacrifice representation because of their audience’s shortcomings?

Kerry Washington should know better. If you cannot represent someone well enough, without making fun of them, then you really shouldn’t be taking the job of representing them at all.

*I am really sorry that I am giving this more airtime, but some conversations have to be had.

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6 thoughts on “That was not Miss Uganda

  1. While I watched the clip, I tried in vain to imagine what the sketch of the Ugandan woman asking useless questions (in that horrible “universal” African accent) was in service of. With some of the other women, one could hear a critique embedded in the humor, for example, that shout-out to ten children that ended with, “I’m just kidding. It’s 2 a.m. in…go to factory.” The issue being targeted here is clear: child labor. Becky, you have pointed out that we do tend to turn a lot of our sentences into questions, whether those questions are rhetorical or not. But is this worth critiquing on a world stage? There should be no apology for poor writing/ poor scripting/ poor delivery, which was what this entire clip showcased. If they wanted to draw attention to countries “from the fringes” and some of the difficulties they face, they should have done so consistently, across the board. With Miss Uganda and Miss Greenland, especially, all they displayed was the ignorance of the general American audience when it comes to these two countries (less excusable for Miss Uganda, though, because come on, like you said, the stop Kony debacle was fairly recent). Even comedy sketches should be held to certain standards, and this one fails, spectacularly.

    Thanks for starting a conversation about this.

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  2. This was a sketch for which i bet the countries were picked at random and believe it, your country, our country Uganda is random. They did not set out to make an exact representation of Miss Uganda because c’mon no one can mention one unique thing she did this last year’s pageant. While her accent was mostly a fail, she tried and was spot on with the question tag like sentences. Plus i doubt any of the other country beauty queen representations came even close to the actual contestants characterizations. Its sketch comedy. people need to laugh a little or actually a lot more..

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    • I didn’t feel that it was spot-on. We use question-tag sentences but not like that, not with questions (in the grammatical sense). Like the example given: “And I went where?”

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    • I am actually pretty capable of laughing at myself, but only if I see myself. The point here is that she didn’t get the representation right.

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