Arts and Entertainment

“Miss Americana”: A Political Documentary about Taylor Swift

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By Ismath Maksura

“Miss Americana,” a documentary about Taylor Swift’s career and rise to fame, is hardly a new idea, as celebrities have been making personal documentaries for decades. It follows Swift from her first country songs as a teen to her most recent album “Lover,” attempting to humanize her and shed new light on her career.

The documentary is told in chronological order and includes voiceovers combined with interview clips and behind-the-scenes videos of Swift composing her songs. A disappointment early on in the documentary, however, was that a significant portion of the film comprised of old clips instead of new material. Much of the content in the documentary was recycled from Swift’s past interviews and previous appearances in the media. “Miss Americana” reveals that since so much of Swift’s life has already been documented, there’s not much left to share. Its summary of her early career was unnecessary and detracted from the portion of the film dedicated to where she is now.

But one of the upsides of this documentary is Swift’s vulnerability from her mental health struggles, which allows her to emotionally connect with her audience. One of the most memorable moments is when she talks honestly about her loneliness and how the only person she has was her mother. At one point, Swift wonders, “Shouldn’t I have someone to call right now?”

Another memorable scene is her candid discussion of the unjust treatment of women in the entertainment industry, going as far to say that they are “discarded in an elephant graveyard by the time they’re 35.” Swift talks about her need to reinvent herself in order to stay relevant and how her male counterparts don’t face the same pressure.

In addition to tackling gender roles, Swift decides to speak on her political stance. “Miss Americana” addresses why Swift has suddenly emerged as a political activist after 15 years of silence in politics. The documentary depicts how she fought her family to post an endorsement for two democratic candidates in Tennessee, despite how risky it was for her popularity at that point in her career. Swift repeatedly explains that she stayed silent for so long in fear of influencing other people’s politics. She justifies her silence during the 2016 election by stating that had she publicly supported Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, her endorsement would have done more harm than good due to her reputation. It’s clear viewers are supposed to feel sympathetic toward Swift, who paints herself as someone previously uneducated about politics and scared of offending the public, but this message seems staged.
The film’s explanation for why Swift suddenly became an avid political activist is flimsy at best and despite its good intentions, doesn’t show Swift in a more positive light. The second half of the 85-minute long film is dominated by Swift's harsh criticisms toward conservative Marsha Blackburn, whom she calls “Trump in a wig.” There is a noticeable shift when the documentary’s focus transitions from Swift to her political opinions. While her stance on political issues is a significant aspect of her life, there’s a fine line between watching a documentary about Taylor Swift and her personal struggles throughout her professional endeavours and watching a film about her political beliefs.

Despite its flaws, “Miss Americana” tackles more topics than necessary for a celebrity documentary. Swift opens up about eating disorders, anxiety, and the fragility of her career. This version of her is complex, proving that she’s more than just a pop star who just keeps reinventing herself. This documentary humanizes her, and though viewers should be skeptical, as the purpose of celebrity documentaries is to help them appear more relatable, the audience can’t help but root for her by the end of the film.