Vanessa Williams was stripped of her Miss America crown in 1984 after Penthouse published nude photos of her without her permission. Now the scandal is set to be unpacked in a forthcoming series for Sony TV.
“This project is incredibly personal to me,” Williams told Deadline. “There are so many inaccurate and untrue accounts of the events surrounding this period in my life, and as a mother, and as a Black woman, it is important to me that my truth be told and be documented from my perspective.
She continued, “This is not just a story about racy photos, it is about misogyny and racism and I want to shine a light on that for future generations. I was not only able to survive what could have been a career-ending scandal, but rose above it and have achieved a body of work I am extremely proud of.”
Williams became the first Black woman to win the crown in 1983 but when Penthouse Magazine published unauthorized nude photos of her, she was forced to resign her title. In 2016, the executive chairman of the Miss America pageantissued a public apology to the Hollywood veteran.
Williams previously noted that the Black community was her harshest critic after she was crowned Miss America. Speaking on A&E’s The Table is Ours podcast, she said: “I was not seen as a 20-year-old, who is a junior in college. I was seen as a symbol but also seen as a Black woman, and also seen as someone who was supposed to represent the American beauty. And there are a lot of folks that did not believe that having brown skin and being a Black woman represented the Miss America ideal,” she said.
“I had death threats. I had sharpshooters when I did my homecoming parade. There were sharpshooters on the top of roofs of my hometown, just because of the threat, the threats that were, you know, against me because of who I was,” she explained.
Williams noted that some of the threats came from “my own people.”
“The people that are crazy and want to kill you and your family that’s one thing but it was like my own, my own people,” she said.
“Not only was I getting attacked from White folks saying she doesn’t represent us, but some Black folks saying, oh they only picked her cause she’s light, oh they only picked cause she’s light, light eyes and kind of dismissed my talent, my intellect, and my achievement. So that was probably more hurtful,” Williams continued.
“It was tough to take that criticism,” she added.