Can you imagine being on the verge of fulfilling one of your great goals in life, then having that dream brutally snatched away from you? Well, that’s exactly what happened to one unfortunate 24-year-old Puerto Rican woman in 2016. At that time, she was in the running for the title of Miss USA, one of the most coveted beauty pageant titles in the world. But after the space of only a few days, her hopes lay in tatters. And perhaps she was left wondering just how it had all come to that point.
Genesis Davila, a stunning and smart young woman from Puerto Rico, was already a veteran of beauty pageants when she began her campaign for the Miss USA title. At just 21 years old, for instance, she had won the Miss World Puerto Rico 2014 competition, representing her hometown of Arroyo. And this six-foot sensation was going places; there was no doubt whatsoever about that. In fact, the young law student ended up packing her bags and leaving her country in order to further her ambition.
Indeed, after the Miss Puerto Rico victory, Davila went to London to represent her country in the Miss World 2014 competition. What’s more, she was the first woman of African heritage — she describes herself as Afro-Latina — to ever represent her country at the Miss World event. And even though she didn’t actually reach the podium that year, she remained undeterred.
Next up was the Miss Florida USA 2017 contest, held in July 2016; Davila represented Miami Beach, having made Miami her new home. Two months before the event, moreover, she posted a video on YouTube in which she talked about the personal qualities she thought made her a good contestant. “I am a daughter, a sister, a friend,” she said in the clip. “But, most importantly, I am a determined, hard-working, disciplined and passionate woman who understands and celebrates the fabric of our nation. I am a leader who will never give up on her dreams.”
And her move to the mainland U.S. paid off, as she beat off 66 other hopefuls to be crowned Miss Florida USA 2017. “Congratulations as you embark on a year to remember!” the host of the event said as she was handed her winnings. And he was bang on the money about the next 12 months being memorable – although not always in a good way for Davila.
“Dreaming on a cloud! I am Miss Florida USA 2017,” Davila wrote excitedly on her Facebook page the day after her win. And she didn’t just have the crown, but a whole range of other rewards, too. Those included a designer evening gown, a custom-made necklace and a 21-day trip for Miss USA 2017. Unfortunately, though, she was not going to get to keep any of them.
That’s because, less than a week on from that Facebook post, it was announced that Genesis Davila had apparently resorted to cheating in order to win her title. What was Miss Florida said to have done? Hired professionals to style her hair and make-up, instead of doing it herself. A very small thing, seemingly, but one that was very much against the pageant’s rules. And Davila’s alleged actions came in for opprobrium from some quarters. Grant Gravitt, producer of the event, even said to Florida’s Local 10 News that the model had “made a poor life choice.”
How did Davila herself find out this assertion of wrongdoing? Cruelly, by seeing a Facebook post featuring her runner-up, Linette de los Santos, given the crown she thought was hers. Naturally, Davila was devastated – but then she got angry. Within days, in fact, the criminal justice student had hired attorneys. And a massive legal battle, involving very large sums of money, was about to blow up around her.
“We believe [Gravitt] acted maliciously and intentionally to defame and hurt my client,” Davila’s lawyer, Richard Wolfe, said, announcing a $15 million lawsuit at a press conference on August 1. He claimed that Gravitt’s evidence to prove Davila had cheated – a photo of her having her make-up done professionally – had the date mark on it cropped off to make it look like it had been taken on the day of the competition. The plot thickened.
“I am innocent. All these false allegations have taken me completely by surprise,” Davila added to the gathered press. “I have faced many challenges in my life, but nothing like this.” But the challenge was about to get bigger. Gravitt counter-claimed that he had received complaints from other Miss Florida contestants, saying Davila had indeed received professional make-up assistance.
Still, Davila’s camp had an even more serious accusation to make. Specifically, the model claimed that her disqualification hadn’t actually been down to make-up work but, instead, doubts over her citizenship. In a legal document obtained by the website LawNewz, Davila even asserted that, even though she could prove she was an American citizen, Gravitt had screamed of his intention to “take her down” during a meeting.
Meanwhile, critics and commentators alike grew very interested in the idea that Davila had been disqualified due to racism more than anything else. Online magazine Vox, for example, pointed out that at around the same time Davila was losing her crown, a white beauty queen had been hit with a racism scandal. Old tweets by Miss Teen USA, Karlie Hay, had resurfaced — yet she got to keep her crown.
And eventually, many people came out in Davila’s defense. Among them was her stylist, Ilde Goncalves, who had appeared in the allegedly incriminating picture with the model. And he took to Instagram to explain all, writing, “I did her make-up the day we posted the picture, guys. Not the day of the pageant! (Look at the dates.) But there is a lot of envy and hate in this world. Genesis is innocent and deserves her crown.”
Meanwhile, Gravitt would say to website GossipExtra that Davila’s immigration lawyer, Mayra Joli, was actually behind the whole furor. Apparently, she was seeking to discredit him and his company, TelAir Interests. “Do you realize her lawyer Joli is a volunteer for the Miss America pageant? They’re our arch-rivals, and there’s no doubt Ms. Joli wants to embarrass us,” he said. But Davila’s lawyers also had a theory.
They claimed in contrast that Gravitt had fired Davila in order to gain exposure for his company and its sponsor Pageant Ready. The latter had coached Linette de los Santos, the woman who had eventually ended up with the title. “This was all done to get rid of my client, so one of the insiders could be propped up as Miss Florida,” Richard Wolff claimed at a press conference.
The finer points of Davila’s lawsuit were hashed out behind closed doors, and media attention about the case dwindled. But on February 24, 2017, Davila posted an intriguing update to Instagram. And while it did not go into detail, it nevertheless began with the alarming words “#TBT to a dream that was interrupted by the lack of ethic and professionalism of a group of individuals. Had anyone thought about how I felt? Never!”
“I was punished with NO evidence of a wrong doing. I felt so many emotions… Scared, afraid, humiliated, embarrassed and almost a loser for all those who I had let down after a victorious win that we had all worked so hard for,” she wrote. However, she didn’t inform her followers – or anyone else – as to what the eventual result of her legal fight had been.
Still, one interesting piece of news did emerge a few months later. In April 2017 it was announced that Grant Gravitt had been fired from the Miss Universe Organization; his company, Tel-Air Interests, would no longer be involved, either. In a Facebook post, Gravitt announced what had happened as a “retirement” – but there may have been more to it than that.
After all, although the Miss Universe Organization would go on record as saying that the firing was due to financial issues, there was also a rumor that Gravitt had sent out an email claiming that he had been let go over the Genesis Davila incident. Whatever the truth of the matter was, though, Davila let it lie – for a while. In April 2017 she would break her silence to tweet and retweet some cryptic-sounding posts, including one that read, “It’s okay to feel anger; it’s okay to feel hurt, disappointment, but don’t let those feelings stay.”
However, Davila seems to have put the entire incident behind her now. Her Instagram is full of photos of her having fun, for one, and a recent online post seems to sum up her attitude to life. It reads, “The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.” She posted that message almost a year to the day of losing her crown, but it seems as if she has won back her dignity and self-respect in that time.