Directed by: Darryl Roberts
Written by: Darryl Roberts
Produced by: Michele G. Bluthenthal, Roderick Gatlin, Stela Georgieva
Run Time: 105 min
The beauty industry encompasses almost every aspect of our daily lives and there’s no escaping it in the modern world. We’re surrounded by fashion magazines, bill boards, advertisements and television shows depicting what beautiful people look like. America the Beautiful investigates what effects the perception of beauty has on women, the consequences of trying to fit the image of what we think is attractive, how the fashion industry works and seeks an answer to the question of what true beauty is. While the documentary does ask some very important questions it also has many flaws ranging from bad camera work, a lack of information on important issues, emphasizing issues which any somewhat intelligent person already understands and includes segments which should have been cut out of the film completely.
The part of the documentary Darryl Roberts focuses on most chronicles an aspiring 12 year old model, Gerren Taylor, who has the potential to be the next big super model. At her age, Gerren must juggle her school work with her modeling career which is an insightful look into the fashion business. Ultimately this is left an incomplete portrayal of her personality; for example as her work takes off she also has problems at school to the point where she is forced to sign a behavior contract in order to return to her classes again. While the school segment gets a lot of time the film isn’t clear about exactly what her problems are. Did she miss too much class or was it her attitude that resulted in her being kicked out of school? Another aspect missing from her story is how her mother’s greed directly coincides with the downfall of her modeling career by taking Gerren away from the modeling agency she worked with. Her mother states that she has a vision of where Gerren’s career should go but her inexperience and attitude gets her virtually black listed in the United States.
The documentary also features interviews with editors of fashion magazines, modeling agencies, people on the street, parents who have lost their daughters to eating disorders, plastic surgeons and victims of botched surgeries. The interviews give a lot of information which for the most part is common sense but manages to remain informative for those people who haven’t put much thought into how the beauty industry works. Even though most of the interviews were informative, there were some that should have been cut altogether. One of these interviews is with Dr Stephen Marquardt showcases his lack of a grasp on human evolution and how society works making all of his points moot but for some reason this was kept in the film with a little blurb at the end informing us that he’s bipolar. Other interviews that should have been cut are the ones with school children who seem to have the perfect answers to the director’s questions making the segments seem rehearsed.
In the most impressive segment of the documentary, the director investigates the toxins in cosmetics and the lack of oversight over the chemicals that are in every day products. Roberts takes the time to interview chemists who make the products as well as get them tested for cancer causing pathogens. He finds out that the FDA doesn’t really regulate these products they test and they turn up positive for cancer causing materials. With his findings in hand he compares the way Europe and the United States regulate chemicals used in cosmetics showing the lax rules of the cosmetic industry in the United States.
One of the other flaws in this film is the unprofessional camera work which is rampant throughout the movie. There are numerous occasions where the camera is in too close and cuts off the top part of the person in the interview’s head or the shot isn’t centered well. The camera work does get better but unfortunately the viewer gets distracted in interviews by the sound equipment bobbing down into the shot frequently. Since the same interviews are cut apart and presented in different segments of the film these problems occur during the entire duration of the documentary.
The subject of beauty is so massive that it would be impossible to get all of the aspects covered in one film but with that in mind the documentary still doesn’t achieve what it intends to. While it does show the evils of the beauty industry it fails to go in any real depth of what true beauty is. Instead of showing what it intends to the director interviews celebrities about what they think is attractive and repeats sappy things like “everyone is beautiful in their own way.”