Documentary looks at Jenna Talackova's fight to enter Miss Universe pageant
Elena Semikina knows what it’s like to have the flash of the camera go off in her face and a room full of people staring at her.
Being the 2010 Miss Universe Canada has given her insights into a lot of things.
So when she witnessed the story of Jenna Talackova unfolding on that same stage two years later, she knew what she had to do.
Semikina, born in St. Petersburg, Russia and immigrated to Canada in 2004, is well known for being in front of a camera, including as an actor in the movie Three Days in Havana. She’s also just as talented and successful behind the lens as well.
Before there was all the talk about Jenner there was Jenna.
Legendary Olympian Bruce Jenner has garnered a lot of attention this year for his transitioning from a man to a woman. Jenna Talackova made headlines for wanting to compete in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada competition and changed the rules because of her determination.
“She was so brave and her story needed to be told,” Semikina said last week.
And she knew she was the right person to tell it since she has been at the pinnacle of the beauty queen game herself.
Throw in the fact that she and her partner Drew Taylor of Film House Inc. just came off producing the tremendous Our Man in Tehran documentary with Ken Taylor, she knows how to tell a complicated story.
But Behind the Dress is not just a story about glamour and beauty but one inspiration and struggle.
“With the help of Gloria Allred, the famed civil rights lawyer, Jenna took (Donald) Trump and the (Miss Universe) organization head on, winning the right to compete,” said Semikina. “Miss Universe ended up being the international organization that brought significant thought and energy to a topic that needed it dearly. Feminist organizations have been known to be critical of the Miss Universe platform, but in this case, Miss Universe emerged as a leader.”
But it was the human story behind the legal manoeuvres that interested Semikina.
“A lot of the girls were opposed to Jenna in the beginning because of her beauty,” Semikina said, laughing. “But they got to know her and ending up rooting for her.”
It’s a 44-minute documentary which interviews seven contestants from the 2012 competition, including Talackova, as well as Trump.
“There is no question that Donald Trump is the hero of this story and is a hero in general,” said Semikina.
Trump owns the Miss Universe competition and was put in a position to respond to people wanting Talackova disqualified. In the end he decided backing her was the right thing to do.
“Right now there has been a great deal of attention and awareness surrounding transgender rights,” said Semikina. “Bruce Jenner was the headline of every major outlet. But even before that, Jenna Talackova was making world-wide waves.
The film will be screened with red carpet and all in Toronto May 22 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. The big question is, will Talackova be there?
“She is in essence in Vancouver in hiding,” said Semikina. “After so much attention she is just taking a break for herself.”
In the film Talackova talks about the criticism of beauty pageants but said it was a good platform to change attitudes about beauty.
“If I had to walk in a bikini for that in front of millions in the world, and its helped this many people, then fine, I will walk in a bikini again for them,” she said.