American Royalty Image

American Royalty

By Alan Ng | February 15, 2023

After recently celebrating its 100th anniversary, 80,000 women have competed in the Miss America pageant, which in turn gives women an opportunity to attend college, gain notoriety, and positively influence the world through their platforms. Daniel and Stephen Fisher’s American Royalty gives us an in-depth look into the history, legacy, and controversies surrounding the Miss America Pageant. The filmmakers interview many former Miss America employees and volunteers over the decades as well as past Miss Americas, including Kimberly Clarice Aiken, Kylene Barker, Dorothy Benham, Ericka Dunlap, Pamela Anne Eldred, Judith Anne Ford, and Debbye Turner.

The first Miss America pageant began in Atlantic City on September 25, 1920. The casinos organized it to draw in crowds for some fun and gambling. However, it wouldn’t be until 1935 that Lenora Slaughter was hired to reinvent the organization. Slaughter made Miss America truly American by establishing chapters in every state and adding the scholarship component to the competition. As a result, many competitors turned their winnings into full rides toward medical and law degrees.

The pageant’s popularity undeniably stemmed from the goodwill and awareness of the current winner’s social platform. At one point, Miss America, the Oscars, and the Superbowl were the highest-rated programs on television. Oh, have times changed. Since it left network television, the pageant has struggled to regain its audience, notoriety, and reputation.

“…an in-depth look into the history, legacy, and controversies surrounding the Miss America Pageant.”

American Royalty also looks at some of the controversies over the decade, beginning with Lenora Slaughter’s Rule 7. This meant that only White Angle Saxon Protestants could compete. Then there is the racial component, particularly surrounding the uncrowning of winner Vanessa Williams, which made Debbye Turner’s so important. The most recent issue concerns the removal of the swimsuit competition. Yes, the competition was for the men, as noted in the creepy “quarter-turn” judging segment. In 2018, incoming president Gretchen Carlson removed this part of the competition in response to the #MeToo movement.

American Royalty is genuinely an independent documentary that comes with its pros and cons. On the pro side, the film is not associated with the Miss America pageant in any way financially. Therefore, it is able to take a journalistic approach and present the organization’s history while discussing the controversies surrounding Miss America and the pageant industry in general. The movie stands very much in the middle of controversies, particularly surrounding the swimsuit competition’s removal. At the same time, this is not an exposé on the Miss America pageant and has zero intention of taking down the organization. If anything, there is a sense that the participants are not thrilled with the current direction.

Unfortunately, the Fishers speak to no one currently involved in the Miss America organization. While that shows that the filmmakers are not shilling for the Miss America organization, it makes for a slightly unbalanced watch. It would have been nice to have someone involved with Miss America to address the criticisms levied at the pageant as a whole.

Whether or not you see American Royalty will depend on your interest in the subject matter. Either way, Daniel and Stephen Fisher present an entertaining and informative documentary about the Miss America pageant. It takes an outsider/fan approach and is unafraid to ask tough questions and bring up concerns about the organization’s current direction.

American Royalty (2023)

Directed and Written: Daniel Fisher, Stephen Fisher

Starring: Kimberly Clarice Aiken, Kylene Barker, Dorothy Benham, Ericka Dunlap, Pamela Anne Eldred, Judith Anne Ford, Debbye Turner, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

American Royalty Image

"…an entertaining and informative documentary..."

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