American Experience: Miss America (2002)

Genres - Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Beauty & Fashion, Gender Issues, Social History  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |  
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In 1921, businessmen and merchants in Atlantic City, NJ, were looking for a way to attract tourists to the town after the Labor Day holiday, when Boardwalk traffic traditionally slowed down. They came up with the idea of sponsoring a nationwide beauty contest, and The Miss America Pageant was born. The pageant was an immediate sensation, and quickly became a lasting part of the American consciousness. It also became a subject of controversy on a number of different levels, inciting criticism by feminists who believed the event projected an negative image of women, and accusations of racism during the long period during which only white women were allowed to compete (it wouldn't be until 1983 that an African-American won the prize). Miss America is a documentary (produced for the PBS series The American Experience) which examines the history of the Miss America Pageant, as well as its social impact and the view points of its supporters and detractors over the years; the film features an interesting sidebar on Bess Meyerson, the first (and to date the only) Jewish Miss America, whose victory in 1945 was considered potent ammunition against anti-Semitism so soon after the end of World War II and the revelation of the holocaust.

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Keywords

beauty-pageant, behind-the-scenes, business, commercialism, feminism, retrospective, sexual-identity, social-change