Black Country film-maker set to screen brand new film
"I wanted to create something that showed the true side of this – people don't take beauty pageants seriously."
Meet Natalie Cutler. To many she's the long-time partner of Wolves captain Danny Batth and a former beauty pageant contestant.
But the 27-year-old is changing perceptions – of both herself and of the industry she's worked in. Natalie has gone from being a successful beauty queen to an aspiring film-maker with her own production company who's about to tour the country with her one-woman feminism show.
Not your average WAG, then.
Tomorrow evening sees the premiere of Not in Vain, a documentary which looks at the the beauty pageant scene in the UK – and shines a light on a dark underside of how beauty is perceived in India, where Natalie has previously lived for seven months.
Whereas in the UK negative stereotypes of beauty lead to sexism and an attack on your character, in India it can lead to an attack on your life, as Natalie saw when she visited the country to visit a number of inspiring victims.
Acid attacks on women are prevalent in India, as first-time filmmaker Natalie explained: "Acid attacks happen for many reasons in India but the main theme that kept coming up was of jealousy, when a man feels rejected by a woman he attacks her with acid with the mindset of 'if I can't have you no one can'."
Every year the Miss Universe Great Britain pageant, which the film follows as it charts contestants from England, Wales and Scotland, chooses a charity to donate funds to. This year it was Stop Acid Attacks, an Indian-based foundation launched by victim Laxmi Agarwal who helps run a 'Sheroes' cafe in by the Taj Mahal and has met the Obamas and William and Kate as she has spread awareness of this heinous crime. On her documentary journey Natalie hears of women who've been attacked with acid because they turned down a marriage proposal, or because they were only produced daughters for their husband.
Attacking someone with acid wasn't made a crime in India until 2013.
"The foundation and the 'Sheroes' campaign are really starting to change the way people see this crime," Natalie added.
"The people who do this don't know any better. Nine out of 10 times it's people who are illiterate and have no education. It comes from ignorance. Most people would say it's common sense not to throw acid on someone, but it doesn't work like that everywhere, if you're from a culture that doesn't value women in the same way we might over here. In India they perceive beauty as an important status, so if you're disfigured you'll never marry."
Not in Vain will do the film festival circuit this year and it's hoped it will then be screened on television.
Natalie, from Rowley Regis and a former pupil of what is now Ormiston Forge Academy, was chosen to produce the documentary ahead of Channel 4, owing to her links to the industry.
Her one-woman show Not Yet Suffragette, a light-hearted look at how far society has or hasn't come since women won the vote, visits the Mac theatre in Birmingham on March 23 and Artrix in Bromsgrove on March 19.
Feminism is at the heart of Natalie's work.
"Beauty pageants are used as the medium to tell the story in Not in Vain, but really it's about how do we perceive women in today's society? And how do we stereotype them based on the choices they make about their appearance? Or how they choose to use their looks for certain things in life. Not everyone can sing like Adele, but no one said to Adele she shouldn't sing because she's going to make other people feel insecure.
"I honestly believe in that. That's why it's called Not in Vain – I believe that for some people, being beautiful is part of their progress towards what they've trying to achieve in life. If the way they look can help them do something good and positive in life, then what's wrong with doing it? We need to remember feminism is about choice. Bra-burning feminists might say it's a step back for women, but feminism is choice – it's not about being equal or independent in a way that you're told to be equal or independent. It's about choice.
"People don't really take beauty pageants seriously. The media talk about them being outdated and sexist. I knew that wasn't true. I wanted to create something that showed the true side."
Batth and a number of team mates will attend tomorrow's premiere at Cineworld in Birmingham. Natalie is nervous at what reaction she'll get, but she's pleased with the final product. "Dan's really supportive. I'm really secretive about what I'm doing – until I need to tell everyone about it. I've told the story for what it is and will let people make up their own opinions."
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