Ugly - Stacey McKenzie’s story for the big screen

Production to start on biopic of J'can-born model

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 21, 2018

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The story of Kingston-born, Toronto-based supermodel Stacey McKenzie is to make it to the big screen.

Production on the biopic is set to commence later this year, with casting directors set to visit Jamaica shortly to search for two young Jamaican girls to play McKenzie at different stages of her life.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer from New York where she is currently involved in promotions for the current cycle of the television reality show America's Next Top Model, McKenzie could hardly contain her excitement as she tried to explain the genesis of the film project.

“I was in New York, the executives at VH1 had flown me there for a meeting when I was being considered for the runway coach for America's Next Top Model. As part of the interview I was asked to tell my story, and by the end of it, not just me but everyone in the room was bawling. The executive producer, Ken Mok, just said it... 'I'm gonna tell your story. This story has to make it to the big screen'. I was like yeah sure, let's see,” she recalled.

That was last summer, Mok stuck to his word, and the Stacey McKenzie biopic Ugly was born.

McKenzie was born in Jamaica. Her deep voice and unconventional looks made her the target of unkind statements from neighbours, schoolmates and even strangers. Migrating to Canada at age 13, she thought this would have made her life easier, but instead the bullying, racism and discouragement continued. Inspired to become a model she knocked on doors of modelling agencies on both sides of the Atlantic for five years before eventually making a breakthrough. Since then she has racked up an impressive list of print, television and runway work for the likes of fashion's elite including Calvin Klein, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and Tommy Hilfiger.

For obvious reasons she guards the storyline of Ugly, but hints that it is an inspiring story about female empowerment.

“It speaks to what it took for me to get where I am today. The fact that I was told that with my looks I could never be a model. But I believed in myself and so I kept pushing, knocking on the next door after one was just closed in my face. It is that never-give-up Jamaican spirit that pushes you to keep going. That Jamaican spirit that says only Father God himself can say Stacey this is not for you.”

McKenzie is also very comfortable with the title of the film.

“I honestly don't have a problem with the title. Once I heard Ugly, I was for it. I have used such comments as a driving force. I always associate such comments with the positive — it just means I have to work harder. I know for some people it could be seen as negative, but it just fires me to go for more. I love it, plus it is definitely an attention grabber.”

“I want young boys and girls to love who they are. Recognise that you have one body, one face and one look that you have been given, accept it. Be confident in whatever you do, and be the best at it. When you start loving, owning and accepting your flaws you will realise that the obstacles are not as bad as they seemed originally,” she added.

The project has since attracted the attention of Bethann Hardison, a former fashion model and the founder of the Diversity Coalition — an initiative to increase diversity in the fashion industry and expose racial prejudice — who will also serve as the films executive producer.

“Bethann is so well known and so we approached her to be part of the project and she agreed, which was great for me. She told me she was always a fan and remembers me coming on the scene with that different look. I was so intrigued by the fact that she knew and understood my journey and brings that to the production,” McKenzie explained to the Sunday Observer.

Ugly and America's Next Top Model aside, McKenzie is still a working model and does stints as a fashion expert on Canadian television. However, she is devoted to her Walk This Way Workshops which trains aspiring models, and is most proud of her Walk This Way Camp, a two-week programme for young girls ages 12-17 in which they receive training and mentorship in various life skills. She is desperate to bring this to Jamaica.

“I started the camp five years ago. The truth is I wanted to start the camp here in Jamaica but it just didn't work out. But I am committing myself to bring it home. I didn't have this support growing up and I feel that having been given this platform it is my duty to give back to the youth. I have been blessed for a reason... to be able to inspire and assist young people. This year I must bring my camp to young people in Jamaica, my country needs it.”

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