Film & Television

‘Taylor Swift: Miss Americana’ — A Pop Star Finds
A New Voice

It was, perhaps, Swift’s experience in court that led to her decision to use her fame and familiar voice for what she believed to be social good. An unapologetic feminist and gay rights supporter, she upbraids herself for staying silent through the 2016 election. In the 2018 midterms, she felt she no longer could.

Swift refers to Marsha Blackburn, the conservative GOP candidate for a Tennessee Senate seat, as “Trump in a wig.” She cites the woman’s history of voting against issues of women’s and LGBTQ rights and urges voters to choose democrat Phil Bredesen instead. “She says she supports Tennessee Christian values,” she explains in the documentary. “But I’m from Tennessee and I’m a Christian, and those are not our values.” 

One of the most riveting scenes in Miss Americana, shot by a Swift crew member because director Wilson didn’t happen to be there at the time, involves Swift and her mother arguing with her management team (noticeably older, straight, white, and male) about whether or not she should come forward. “Don’t be like the Dixie Chicks,” she’s warned. “If I came to you and said, ‘I have an idea that will cut your audience in half,’ what would you say?” challenges one of the men. Swift, although clearly uncomfortable, makes her own decision. And, with the slightly anxious support of her publicist, she sends out a tweet to her 100+ million followers, which reads:

“I’m writing this post about the upcoming midterm elections on November 6th, in which I’ll be voting in the state of Tennessee. In the past, I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”

She went on to cite the instances in which Blackburn voted against the interests of women and the gay community (“Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me”) and explains that she will vote for Bredesen. But her main message is simple: “Vote.” (“Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values . . . So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count.”) 

The reaction, as you may have guessed, is decidedly mixed. President Trump, when asked about it, jokes, “Maybe I like her music 25% less now.” But, among her loyal audience, her message is heard. According to Vote.org, which she had referenced, 65,000 people registered within 24 hours of her tweet. 

Despite Swift’s efforts, Blackburn won the election, or as Stephen Colbert teases, “I guess Tay-Tay didn’t have that much sway-sway.” 

Wilson, whose previously lauded documentary After Tiller profiled the only four American doctors willing to perform third trimester abortions after the assassination of Kansas Dr. George Tiller in 2009, was Swift’s choice to direct Miss Americana, perhaps demonstrating the star’s commitment to her new and no longer apolitical voice. And the scenes surrounding Swift’s convictions are persuasive. In fact, in an interview with Variety, Wilson explained that her film was “looking at the flip side of being America’s sweetheart.” In the same interview, Swift asserts, “I needed to get to a point where I was ready, able, and willing to call out bullshit rather than just smiling my way through it.”

But Wilson gives us a less controversial treat as well. Several scenes allow us to watch Swift working, writing lyrics (on her mobile phone) while Joel Little, her producer, brings the melodies she hums to life. How quickly she works, and the megahits that come out of these friendly, seemingly effortless sessions, are quite stunning. 

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana premiered at Sundance and was met with positive reviews and a standing ovation. The film will become something of a holy relic for so-called “Swifties.” Indeed, it reinforces all they love about her and puts naysayers to shame. 

For those of us who didn’t rush out to buy Lover when it was released last August — and sold 450,000 copies the very first day — Miss Americana offers a compelling and compassionate portrait of an extraordinarily talented woman who has grown up and remained remarkably unspoiled under the harshest possible spotlights. She is bright, articulate, and grounded. She expects more from herself every day than any of her fans do. And she’s determined to deliver.

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana is available to stream on Netflix. So is Wilson’s After Tiller.

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