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Miss Americana (Documentary Review)

Not your typical bubbly celebrity tell-all, Miss Americana finds its message and sticks to it.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere in the middle of the Siberian wilderness, and a big rock at that, you’re likely familiar with Taylor Swift. With her catchy songs about heartbreak and revenge, her decade-long string of fleeting romances, and her more recent political activism, Swift is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry right now.

Miss Americana (2020), directed by Lana Wilson, traces Swift’s transformation from a starry-eyed teenage country singer to the outspoken superstar she is today. Through behind-the-scenes interviews and previously unreleased footage, the film offers viewers a peek into parts of Swift’s life she has previously kept private, something long-time fans will enjoy. Yet, as a whole, Miss Americana is a political statement thinly veiled as a celebrity coming-of-age story. Not your typical bubbly tell-all, Miss Americana finds its message and sticks to it.

For Consideration

On the Surface—(Profanity, Sexual content, violence, etc.).

There is coarse language scattered throughout the film, including multiple uses of the F-word and S-word.

Footage from Swift’s concerts portrays some suggestive costumes and dancing (though not on the scale of, say, the 2020 Super Bowl Half Time Show…)

Beneath the Surface— (Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.)

 The emptiness of human approval

Miss Americana highlights the insecurities that plague even those the world hails as a success. This theme is nothing new in celebrity documentaries. No amount of money, awards, or adoring fans can instill in someone a healthy sense of self-worth, and any satisfaction those achievements might offer in the moment is fleeting.

During an intimate monologue, Swift comments, “When you’re living for the approval of strangers and that’s where you derive all of your joy and fulfilment, one bad thing can cause everything to crumble.”

Swift’s words are both personal and cautionary. They are a reminder that using the admiration of others as a measuring stick for your self-worth will inevitably leave you empty.

Body image and self-destructive behavior

In one of the seemingly more candid segments, Swift opens up about her past struggles with disordered eating. As a megastar who can’t leave her house without being trailed by zoom lens-toting paparazzi, her admission is sad but not shocking. It’s no secret that many celebrities struggle with the intense public scrutiny their bodies receive, especially when one unflattering photo can lead to a flurry of critical tabloid headlines.

But suffering from an unhealthy body image isn’t simply the domain of pop stars and Hollywood starlets. From curated Instagram feeds to the more nefarious pornographic sludge on the internet, people (especially women) today face unprecedented challenges in maintaining a healthy body image. And without a higher source of self-worth than other people’s approval, that battle is, unfortunately, all too often a losing one.  

Finding one’s voice, female empowerment, and the patriarchy

Undoubtedly, the main crux of the documentary is Swift “finding her voice” not as a singer but as an empowered female spokesperson who is no longer being held back by the patriarchy (which, in at least one scene, takes the form of her father and male manager). Most of the second half of the documentary focuses on Swift’s “political awakening,” starting with her endorsement of Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections (a move she claims was prompted by a much-publicized sexual assault trial she won in 2017).

Swift certainly has the right to share her views, political or otherwise. But fans who expect Miss Americana to be an exposé on Swift’s personal life, or even predominately about Swift’s music, should prepare to be on the receiving end of Swift’s carefully crafted left-wing political message instead (and also for a few scenes of cute cats, because this is a Taylor Swift documentary after all).

Final Thoughts

Miss Americana portrays Swift as a likable, hard-working, and talented entertainer who is finally ready to speak out on issues she deems important. Of course, at a time when it’s impossible to turn on the TV or glance through a social media feed without being inundated with political commentary and opinions, one can’t help but wonder if adding a 30-year-old pop singer’s voice to the mix is entirely necessary–especially given that her views seem to fall squarely in line with the left-wing viewpoints that are already being endorsed by most of Hollywood’s vocal elite (#MeToo platitudes are hardly a novelty in 2020). Yet Swift has enormous name recognition and a legion of loyal fans who will undoubtedly gobble this film up, political agenda and all.

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