When Lana Wilson met with Taylor Swift to discuss directing what would become her Netflix biographical documentary “Miss Americana,” the star hadn’t done an interview in three years, having gone into self-imposed exile following her ongoing drama with Kanye West.
“She had experienced this big social media backlash, where she’d gone from being America’s sweetheart to being on the cover of a national magazine being called a liar in the course of a year. She’d kind of shut herself away from the world and was trying to figure out basically, ‘How can I be an artist who’s constantly putting themselves out there for public approval, for public judgment — how can I keep doing that and keep putting my music out there while protecting myself from all of the noise, all of the opinions?’ Wilson told Gold Derby during our Meet the BTL Experts: Film Documentary panel (watch above). “She was reevaluating her belief system and how she wanted to live. And so it was this incredible opportunity for me to come in and document what was happening.”
“Miss Americana,” which chronicles the recording of Swift’s seventh album “Lover,” gives an intimate look into the superstar’s life and features her discussing topics she had never broached publicly before, including her lifelong need for outside validation, her past struggles with an eating disorder and her sexual assault trial. Swift won the case in 2017, after which she was galvanized to use her platform to speak up. Shortly before the midterm elections in 2018, she came out politically against Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of her home state of Tennessee.
Late in the film, Swift fights back against her father and her team who feel it’s better if she kept her politics to herself. It’s a pivotal moment that crystallized the thesis of the film for Wilson.
“Although her father loves her very much — everyone in the room loves her very much, they’re great people who’ve been supporting Taylor for 15 years — it’s a moment where she says, ‘I hear your point of view, I understand where you’re coming from, but I have to go my own way now. I have to do things differently,’” Wilson said. “And in that, I saw this coming-of-age moment that I thought millions of people could relate to in their own lives. We all have that moment where we’re doing something our parents don’t want us to do or having to make a hard decision that’s not the easiest road to go down. Once we had that scene in the can, it just felt so clear to me that this is the climax of the film, and everything else should be building to that. So at that point, the editing process became about, fundamentally, this is the story of a good girl deciding to speak out.”
At the end of “Miss Americana,” Swift, who turns 31 in December, muses on the double standard against women in music, stating she wants to use her platform while people still care about her. And they do: Her surprise album “Folklore” from July is the best-selling LP of the year and just earned a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year (in contrast to the beginning of the film when she says she has to make a better album after “Reputation” did not get any general field nominations).
“When you’re a female artist in the music world and you turn 30, that is often a death sentence,” Wilson noted. “You do see her become increasingly conscious of the limitations society is placing on her because she’s female … and she becomes increasingly angry. It does lead to this recognition of all these contradictions of, ‘Yes, I’m going to keep putting out work. I can’t control what anyone thinks. If I try to please everyone and make everyone like me, ultimately, I’m gonna hurt myself.’ So I did see the release of this album as a marker of the freedom she’s found at this point.”
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