By Carter Glace
“Miss Tibet: Beauty in Exile” follows a Tibetan-American as she competes in the Miss Tibet Pageant, an event formed by a man whose ambition was to create a “pageant with a difference,” to insert a western/modern event into traditional culture while creating a platform for young Tibetan women to advocate for the “Free Tibet” movement.
“Miss Tibet” does a good job separating itself from the typical image of western pageants. The time typically dedicated to practicing dancing, talent and musical numbers is instead spent learning the language, attending teachings from the Dalai Lama and heading to the parliament in exile. The effort to keep this from devolving into Western spectacle feels very genuine, an effort to prove their culture adaptable and relevant without compromising the traditions they are fighting for in the first place.
Honestly, when the pageant begins, it doesn’t even feel like a competition, rather just an elaborate celebration. Even the game changing ending, which seems determined to throw the whole production into despair, is saved by classy, grounded reactions from the girls involved, reminding us that for them, this is about something far greater.
I simply wish there was more of it. The documentary is shockingly short, clocking in at a little over an hour, and there are so many sides and questions that aren’t addressed. For example, it was discussed that a majority detested the competition as a compromising of Tibetan ideals, only to begin backing the competition when a winner defiantly refused to wear a Chinese banner on the international circuit. But what about those who still protest the project? And what about the Chinese/International perspective? I wish we were given more context within the conflict.
As previously mentioned, we get a huge, upsetting turn at the end that can potentially cast the whole film in a new light — The “western” side of pageants rears its ugly head, and raises so many engaging, difficult questions not only about its subject matter, but the very nature of Tibet, its place in the world, and the constantly shifting of Western/Eastern, Modern/Traditional values. Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t dig quite deep enough.
Regardless of its lack of depth, “Miss Tibet” is a fascinating, if short-lived, look at a long discussed topic.
Carter Glace is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.