“Miss Americana” is lively, smart, and educational

This Friday, a truly extraordinary documentary was released on Netflix. Having already made a splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Miss Americana opened worldwide to general praise and appreciation. The thing that stuck out to me was how much I related to Taylor Swift’s journey and mindset as displayed in the film, having never been a fan of her music. I guess it also helps that I don’t participate in the general twitterati that pounces every time a star eats food. 

The film, directed by Lana Wilson (After Tiller, The Departure), follows Taylor Swift through the period between when the Kanye kerfuffle exploded and today. Wilson has an incredible amount of access, not only to Swift’s personal life and entourage, but to her songwriting process as well. 

It goes under-appreciated how difficult staying on top in the pop music world is, especially for young women. The fact that it’s been Taylor’s voice, Taylor’s words for over ten years is unique and remarkable. As she acknowledges here, it’s around the age of 35 that the music industry generally throws out the last decade’s favorite female performers. Nearing 30 herself, Swift is determined to enter a new phase of her career and keep being a pioneer. This documentary is a great start. 

Edited by a five-person team, Miss Americana is a masterclass in documentary editing. It flows effortlessly from one topic to the next, from Taylor’s rise at such a young age to her political conviction to her introducing her producer to the wonders of burritos. Everything here is punctuated with personality and humor – the only way to describe it is totally endearing.

I believe a film like this has tremendous import in the Trump era. We currently have a pop-culture President, so to not intellectually address pop culture is hipsterism at best and foolish at worst. The film attacks the paparazzi head-on, who for years hounded Swift about her weight, her relationships, and even her silence on politics before 2018. I love Dave Letterman, but one thing I couldn’t help thinking when seeing a clip of him fist-bumping Swift after she says she doesn’t want to force her political opinion on others was, ‘would he have been so celebratory of that stance if she were a man?’ As Swift keeps coming back to in the interviews here, there is still a profound – and frankly disgusting – double standard for women when it comes to speaking out about politics. It certainly doesn’t help that she was definitively branded ‘Miss Americana’ before she had a grasp on what a whirlwind her sudden fame had become. The comparison to Dixie Chicks is more than apt.

When she finally breaks her political silence for the 2018 midterm elections, her management team is frightened of the impact this might have. The conversation they have about moving forward on Taylor’s activism is as tense and profoundly stark as anything in modern cinema. 

Through every phase of her career, it seems as though Taylor Swift has had something to lose. We have everything to gain by putting aside our biases and realizing how false the bill of goods we’re sold about so many celebrities truly is. People are people, not hashtags.

-George Napper

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