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Billy Crawford and Coleen Garcia’s Pre-Wedding Shoot In Ethiopia: The Controversy, The Couple’s Responses, and The Real Story Behind The Photos

Last weekend, pre-nup photos of Billy Crawford and Coleen Garcia in Ethiopia went viral, eliciting a mix of positive and negative feedback.



For the engaged couple, they felt that the majesty and mystique of the African country was an instant fit for a pre-wedding shoot as it resonated with who they are as a couple: adventure-filled, vibrant, brimming with surprises, and—as aptly described by their photographer, Oly Ruiz of Metrophoto—beating with "a love that is in a world of its own."

And a world of their own their love truly has.

In their photos, you see that love glow with a certain warmth when they gaze into each other's eyes as she rests her head on his shoulder for comfort, or as he looks upon her with adoration when she poses with confidence. It looks as if when Billy and Coleen are together, the rest of the world disappears until there is only them, the beauty of nature, and their love for each other.



The Controversy

But as they geared up to share with the world this step in their journey to wedded bliss, Billy and Coleen faced unforeseen reactions to their photo shoot.

After the photos were released online on March 9, wave after wave of backlash came at them from netizens who are quick to label their photos as “distasteful,” “insensitive,” “unnecessary,” and even as far as “racist.”

The issue was stirred by the inclusion of Ethiopian women, children, and men in the shoot, with some of them seen in the photos’ peripheries, or featured in the background. Others also pointed out how the couple seemed to treat Ethiopia’s locals as “props” or “accessories,” and how they worsened the images with their lavish ensembles that made them look like “masters,” and Ethiopians dressed in traditional garb, “slaves.”



As the issue unfolded, reactions on Facebook and Twitter ranged from outraged to indifferent to defensive:


“I don't think we should all admire a prenup photoshoot making background props out of Ethiopian women & children. These photos are heartbreaking & enraging at the same time. I understand that prenup photoshoots get so extra these days but to this extent?”


“Don't tell me that Billy & Coleen's prenup shoot shows the beauty of Ethiopian people because hello, THEY MADE THESE PEOPLE THEIR F-----G BACKGROUND. It doesn't take a genius to notice the macros and blurs!”


“Even if you secured the participants’ consent for the photo shoot, the shoot was poorly executed. There are many other ways to highlight the Ethiopian culture. Nagmukha silang masters-slaves photo shoot.”


“I actually like the prenup photos of billy & coleen. Ang galing ng photog. Is it wrong/inappropriate? I don't think so. I don't see the intention to put the Ethiopian people in a 'bad light'. They actually become part of the art. At least that's what I see.”


“I respect on how you see this photo. But upon seeing all their prenup photos, I realized that they're really promoting Ethiopian culture. Actually, you framed them for just showing the photos with the Ethopians. Not a fan of them tho. I just see this post misleading.”


“Apparently endorsed naman pala ng Ethiopian Airlines yung photoshoot. … I think you guys are reacting because kayo mismo is inherently looking down at Ethiopians as poor people which for me is a subtle form of discrimination itself.”


"Tbh, when I saw the photo, I saw two good looking partners to be married. And I saw beautiful black people in the background. That is not degradative to black people's races. It's only right that #BillyCrawford and #Coleengarcia are the center of attraction in the photos."



The Couple’s Responses

Billy and Coleen’s photos rang in thousands of shares and comments, leaving many demanding an explanation and apology. To explain their side and give a backgrounder on the shoot, Coleen sent a message to Metro.Style, saying, “We had a local Ethiopian guide, a representative of Ethiopian Airlines who guided us and helped direct the photos. He told us to take pictures with the priests, etc. because they were the ones who wanted to include it and be seen in the photos. In other words, photos also went through them and they loved it. I remember clearly that the kids and villagers were very happy when we said they could be in the photos.”

On Sunday, Billy released a statement through ABS-CBN to address the mounting criticism.

Beginning by saying how the impressions they gave were far from what they had intended, the groom-to-be clarified that he and his fiancée were, in fact, “invited and sponsored by Ethiopian Airlines.” As a country with an economy that relies heavily on tourism, Ethiopia and its representatives saw their photo shoot as a golden opportunity to promote Ethiopian culture, sights, warmth, and beauty.

Billy also emphasized that a local guide was present throughout their stay, beginning from the time they shot photos up to the days they casually explored different locations. He went on to say that he learned how Ethiopians were fond of meeting foreign visitors, and that it was indeed their guide who suggested they include locals in their photos. Religious men, curious children, and poised women ended up participating in the shoot, which to them—Ethiopian Airlines, their guide, and locals alike—was a step towards the right direction of promoting the African destination, but unfortunately to others, was an image of exploitation and offensiveness.



“The locals were so kind, warm, and welcoming, and they love meeting tourists. They even gave us some items of clothing to add to our shoot, for which they showed so much support,” he shares.

More is said about the overall positivity of the experience, but ultimately, Billy ended his statement with a joint apology with Coleen. He claimed that, as public figures, they could have approached the photo shoot differently, to avoid misinterpretation.

Ethiopian Airlines, in an official statement communicated through Philippines general manager Solomon Bekele, echoed Billy’s thoughts by clarifying that the celebrity couple had, indeed, been invited. Seeing the shoot as a unique opportunity to showcase Ethiopia’s natural and cultural treasures, he said: 

"Ethiopian Airlines was tapped by The Wedding Library in 2017 for a partnership to host a pre-nuptial pictorial for Billy and Coleen in Ethiopia. Under this partnership, Ethiopian Airlines sponsored their travel and accommodation, and provided a professional guide.

The Airline took this partnership as a good opportunity to showcase Ethiopia's spectacular landscape, history, wildlife, diverse culture and hospitable people while giving the creative team free rein on the execution, with the assistance of the local guide.

Ethiopia provides all the ingredients needed for a good pre-nuptial shoot and we wanted to show these attractions to the wider public through the support of this couple. We were very much excited to host them in Ethiopia.

We will continue to collaborate with media and artists to bring more of Ethiopia's beauty and attractions to the wider public.”

The couple’s critics had little to say about Billy’s insights and the statement from the airline. Instead, another group of social media users surfaced to give a piece of advice to those who held negative views to reevaluate their perceptions given that the issue has been elucidated.



On the other hand, in another exclusive statement shared with Metro.Style, Coleen emphasized that the shoot was well-coordinated by everyone involved. “[Ethiopian Airlines] also asked us kindly if we could take photos for their tourism, which started as early as when we got on the plane,” she says.

Recalling the excitement of preparing for the trip which was organized with the help of The Wedding Library, she continues, “Prior to our trip, none of us had ever been there, so the excitement was real for us. It was actually The Wedding Library who helped organize the collaboration we had between Ethiopian Airlines. (We were represented by our planner, La Belle Fete, who takes pleasure in organizing all our wedding-related events and activities.)“

Upon returning home, the actress and her glam squad had made so many memories from the trip that even before the big reveal of the pre-wedding photos, Coleen had already released casual snaps of their visit on Instagram. “We released many photos of our stay while we were there, all of which were very casual. We told so many stories of our stay, and we could go on endlessly because of how memorable it was!” she says.



The Real Story Behind the Photos

Now, as we wait for Coleen and Billy to tie the knot in a few weeks' time, we present the photos again from their trip in Ethiopia and offer a different side of this story as told by the couple’s glam team—photographer Oly Ruiz was behind the lens for this shoot, with hairstylist Renz Pangilinan, makeup artist Pong Niu, and stylist Adrianne Concepcion—who helped bring the creative vision to life.



Billy and Coleen's shoot in Ethiopia took three days to accomplish and is a stunning follow-up to their first pre-wedding shoot in Thailand. In contrast to the carefree tone of their first set of photos, their Ethiopia looks are more sophisticated, alluring, and unconventional. Renz, along with the other members of their glam squad, says that Coleen was looking to do something that echoed luscious fashion editorials, and less-visited Ethiopian cities and sites proved to be the perfect match for Coleen's vision. While this appears to be their main pre-nup shoot, Billy has explained that an “official” and more personal pre-nup shoot to be done in the Philippines is yet to come.

To achieve the couple's looks, Renz and Pong experimented with a myriad of confident colors and rich tones. If Coleen looked fresh-faced and angelic in her Thailand shoot, she was completely transformed to look more regal and to command a stronger presence this time around. "I played with different lengths of hair. I also added in a few hair accessories to make it more colorful and vibrant," says Renz.



To enhance the couple's expertly curated looks, the team made it a point to shoot in Ethiopia's most picturesque places like Gondar, The Semien Mountains, which hold the highest point in Africa, Lalibela that's known for its rock-cut churches that Coptic Christians often visit, and Addis Ababa, the country’s capital. 

These places not only hold cultural and historical value, but to the couple, also reflect their passion for discovering new places. After all, throughout Coleen and Billy's relationship, the couple strengthened their bond over their countless travels to unique destinations in the Philippines and abroad. Picking Ethiopia, a seldom visited country, was a testament to this. 

Considering that Coleen and Billy got their photos taken in many different places, the team had to meticulously coordinate with locals to get the perfect shot. They coordinated with law enforcement and everyday citizens alike while having to travel far and wide and accomplish so much in so little time. "We literally rode all kinds of transportation: planes, ships and ferries, cars, tuktuks, horses. We went up and down the mountains and hills, felt hot and cold weather, but after seeing the result of our efforts—the beautiful photos—it was all worth it!" gushes Pong.

The couple enjoyed every minute of the shoot and paid no attention to the effort it demanded of them, even taking the time to snap a photo of them sharing a kiss while African wildlife strolled by them. 



The team was extremely happy to share this time with Coleen and Billy, too. Being friends with them outside of work, Pong, Renz, Oly, and Adrianne have known them for years and all agree that they had found suitable matches in each other.

During this shoot, Oly particularly notes that Billy and Coleen were "always in it together. They always consult each other, making sure that everything is collective before they make a decision to do something. It shows a deep respect they have for each other’s feelings and well-being, and it’s very inspiring." The couple, as it seems, has built the ideal foundation for married life and will undoubtedly fit into their roles as husband and wife with ease. 



On their trip, the couple not only enjoyed the country for its sights and sounds, but because of its people, too. If there's anything they want their followers to know about Ethiopia, it's that it has some of the warmest and most accommodating people you'll ever meet. Being first-time visitors in the country, Billy and Coleen made sure to heed the advice of their guide who spoke to locals about the shoot's purpose.

After they had been informed and had given their permission, only then did the team proceed with their shoot. "The shots with the locals were carefully planned. We had to ask permission, coordinate, and then execute," continues Oly. 

After all the memories they made over this experience, the team hopes to inspire couples getting married to be adventurous in their shoots. For couples dreaming of a destination prenuptial shoot, they share these pieces of advice: plan well, and bring along a team that you've worked with before and can be a hundred percent comfortable with.

When that's taken care of, Oly says that "there is no limit on where or what you can do. As long as proper research and planning is done, with a little touch of elegance and romance, photos that you see in magazines can be achieved for your pre-nup or wedding shoots."



Now that the team is home and counting down the days until their friends exchange "I do's," what they're most thankful for is having the "privilege [of] being part of this as it made us closer and our friendship stronger," as stated by Pong. She, in particular, is glad to be a part of the lives of this couple in love whom she calls "a channel of the Lord’s blessing."

Billy and Coleen are set to become Mr. and Mrs. Crawford this April in a beach destination wedding. Coleen has already gone one step closer to becoming a blushing bride after having gone on a tropical bachelorette party in sunny Hawaii with the closest of her friends.

Coleen, who is set to walk down the aisle in just a month, says what she’s enjoyed the most about preparing for her wedding is how her wedding “is really a labor of love, and it doesn’t only celebrate our love for each other, but also highlights the love that these wonderful people have for us.”

She explains that she and Billy have gained a much deeper appreciation for their friends and family who have been extremely generous in helping them put together the intimate ceremony, and that they’ve placed their trust in their wedding’s production team to make the occasion as beautiful as can be.

“This whole experience has taught us so much, and we have a much deeper appreciation for the family and friends who have been here for us in the ways they can. This is why we haven’t been too meticulous with details, though we have added some personal touches,” Coleen says.  

“This whole event is a product of love, and that’s what we want to celebrate,” she concludes.

After completing a shoot and moving one step closer to a wedding that tells the world "about being captivated by a love that stands out beautifully in any place and situation," as Oly puts it, we couldn't be more excited for them. 

Congratulations, Billy and Coleen!



Coleen and Billy ?? . #sneakpeek #BiCol #metrophotobride

A post shared by Oly Ruiz (@dmetroman) on


Photographs by Oly Ruiz of Metrophoto. The shoot was made possible with the help of Ethiopian Airlines and The Wedding Library.