Wednesday, July 25, 2018

AAIFF ’18: Badass Beauty Queen

When she competed as Miss World Canada, Anastasia Lin’s talents were telling the truth and exposing injustice (she also plays piano). However, the leadership of her pageant did not share her talents. Since Lin criticized the Chinese government’s oppression of Tibet and Falun Gong practitioners, the Communist Party was determined to silence her—and the Miss World organization was happy to serve as their muzzle. Yet, the would-be censors were not match for Lin’s guts and grace. The rest of the Western world should heed the events documented in Theresa Kowall-Shipp’s Badass Beauty Queen: The Anastasia Lin Story (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Asian American International Film Festival in New York.

They have some cool beauty queens in Canada, but some absolutely rotten pageants. One of Lin’s predecessors was Miss World Canada 2003 Nazanin Afshin-Jam, who used her platform to speak out against Iranian human rights abuses and encouraged Lin to compete. On her second attempt, Lin won the Canadian crown, which was initially reported widely in China. Then they realized the beauty queen was in the habit of thinking for herself.

When Lin’s mother separated from her father, she took her daughter to Canada for the superior educational opportunities it offered. At that time, she largely believed Party propaganda, but when she read uncensored accounts of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the oppression of the Falun Gong, it opened her eyes. However, as she began raising human rights issues, the Party used her captive father in their attempts to control and punish her.

The Chinese government’s behavior towards Lin (a Canadian citizen) and her Chinese family is deplorable, but not the least bit surprising. However, what is shocking is the extent to which the Miss World pageant (chartered in the UK) fell in line behind their Chinese masters. When the Chinese government refused her entry to Sanya to compete in the global Miss World pageant, the organization never uttered a peep. When they supposedly let her compete in the finals the following year, the categorically refused her permission to speak to the media, even though plenty of her competitors were allowed to do interviews. Yet, in each case, the attempts to silence and bully Lin came back on China and the Miss World pageant, like a bad PR boomerang.

Thanks to her friends, Lin was able to capture an awful lot of the intimidation as it happened. It is particularly eye-opening to watch the Miss World officials betray the principles of free speech for the thirty pieces of silver they receive from their Chinese sponsors. Frankly, they are worse then prostitutes, who merely rent out their bodies. The Miss World pageant sold out our freedoms along with their dignity—and they sold them cheap (Miss World officials declined the filmmakers’ interview requests, presumably because they have nothing to say for themselves).

Indeed, many of the experts interviewed in the film argue Lin’s story is particularly important because it illustrates the international implications of China’s oppressive attempts to silence critics. Lin is a Canadian citizen, but they targeted her and her family because she exercised her Canadian right to free speech.

In many ways, Badass Beauty Queen is a timely wake-up call regarding the threat China poses to free society, but it is also a highly intimate and watchable film. Kowall-Shipp shrewdly recognized the personable, down-to-earth Lin was the film’s strongest asset, so she let her personality shine through loud and clear. It seems inconceivable that the Miss World organization would try so hard to keep her away from cameras and microphones, but such is the extent of their craven corruption.

This is an important film that will make you deeply concerned and maybe even a little afraid of China’s ability to reach its critics in the West. Yet, it will also make you want to hang out with Lin, who despite all she has been through, never takes herself too seriously. Very highly recommended, Badass Beauty Queen screens Saturday (7/28) at the Village East, with a post-screening Q&A scheduled with Lin herself, as part of this year’s AAIFF.