A Thai media tycoon and transgender rights advocate has bought the Miss Universe Organization for $20 million, according to her company, which will now host the international beauty pageant.
Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip is the CEO of JKN Global Group PCL, a Thailand-based media distribution company, though she’s perhaps better known for her role in Thai versions of reality shows including “Project Runway.”
She has also been outspoken about her experiences as a transgender woman and has worked in advocacy for transgender rights in Thailand.
JKN Global Group announced the takeover on Wednesday, saying in a news release it planned to grow the Miss Universe Organization by expanding in Asia – and releasing new merchandise including skin care, cosmetics, lifestyle products, dietary supplements, and drinks.
Jakkaphong said the company was “incredibly honored” to make the acquisition.
“We seek not only to continue its legacy of providing a platform to passionate individuals from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and traditions but also to evolve the brand for the next generation,” she said.
In a joint statement, the CEO and president of the Miss Universe Organization said they were “excited to continue the evolution of the Miss Universe Organization with JKN.”
“Our progressive approach continues to position us at the forefront of our industry,” they said.
The purchase makes Jakkaphong the first woman owner of the Miss Universe Organization, according to the JKN news release.
The Miss Universe beauty contest, one of the world’s most-watched pageants, has been running since 1952.
Like many other major pageants, it has had to reckon with growing public demand for greater diversity, representation and inclusivity over the past decade. It only lifted its ban on transgender contestants in 2012, after a Canadian competitor threatened legal action when told she would be disqualified due to her assigned sex at birth.
And though some critics argue the premise of a beauty pageant is inherently flawed, others say there has been significant progress in recent years.
Beauty pageants for transgender contestants have risen in prominence, most notably Miss International Queen, launched in 2004 and held this year in Thailand. Some countries have launched their own versions; in 2017, India held its first-ever Miss Transqueen India pageant, which aims to celebrate gender fluidity and raise visibility for India’s transgender community.
And in 2019, the winners of five major pageants – Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA – were all women of color, a remarkable milestone given black women weren’t allowed to compete in Miss America until the 1940s, and the first black contestant didn’t take that stage until 30 years later.