Taylor Swift Harnesses Her Power in Intimate Documentary ‘Miss Americana’


A still from “Miss Americana” by Lana Wilson, an official selection of the Documentary Premiers program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

By Oakley Burt, Arts Editor


On a chilly Thursday night in the small mountain town of Park City, the Sundance Film Festival began debuting its 2020 films selected from across the globe. This year, the opening film for Sundance’s U.S. Documentary category was the highly anticipated Taylor Swift documentary “Miss Americana,” premiering at the Eccles Theatre. Hundreds of festival-goers stood in line waiting to see the film, while hundreds more gathered around the barricades to catch a glimpse of Miss Americana herself. 

This documentary, directed by Lana Wilson (“After Tiller”), takes an up-close-and-personal look at Swift’s life, from her rising childhood fame to her mega superstar status and everything in between. “Miss Americana” mainly focuses on a transformative time in Swift’s life as she sheds her “nice girl” persona and begins speaking out for women’s and LGBT+ rights. Wilson wastes no time keying the viewer in on this — you may think you know Swift, but you don’t. 

The first half of the documentary is a fast-paced history of Swift’s stardom and her crossover from country to pop, along with Kanye West’s infamous “I’ma let you finish” hijacking of her 2009 MTV Video Awards speech. Through interviews with Wilson, Swift looks inward, discussing her need for approval from others in order to feel a sense of belonging. “My entire moral code is a need to be thought of as ‘good,’” Swift said early in the film. She also talks openly and honestly about the constant scrutiny and criticism from the media that led to body image issues and an eating disorder. 

A significant event in Swift’s life was her 2015 sexual assault trial against a Colorado radio host who groped her at an event — she won the case, but it left a profound impact on her. “I was unspeakably and unchangeably different after the sexual assault trial,” Swift said in the film. “No man, or organization, or my family will ever understand what that was like.” The cracks in her “nice girl” persona started to show as she began deconstructing the conditioned misogyny built up in her head and examined what was truly important to her. 

“Miss Americana” turns up the heat in its final act with Swift, who had remained largely apolitical throughout her career, experiencing a political awakening during the 2018 midterm elections. She boldly spoke out for the first time against Tennessee’s junior Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn for running a campaign that Swift believed went against Tennessee Christian values, namely women’s and LGBT+ rights. “I need to be on the right side of history,” Swift said in the film, despite her team’s hesitancy to release a statement.

It’s empowering to see a film about Swift that isn’t about her big concert performances but that rather how she has overcome personal struggles to find her voice. She’s rejecting the labels a misogynistic society has placed on her and taking back control of the narrative — a theme which is prevalent on her latest album “Lover.” “Miss Americana” is a raw story of a woman on the brink of 30, harnessing her power and finally feeling liberated.

“Miss Americana” will be available to stream on Netflix starting Jan. 31. 


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