Miss Navajo

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For most of us, pageants conjure up smiling beauty-queen hopefuls parading around in bathing suits or glittery gowns. But most of us have never witnessed the Miss Navajo Nation competition, an event, inaugurated in 1952, that redefines "pageant" as an opportunity for young women to honor and strengthen Navajo culture and reveal the beauty within.

In this sensitive documentary, Billy Luther, whose mother was crowned Miss Navajo 1966, opens the door to a surprising world, where contestants with diverse styles, physiques, and political orientations are challenged to answer tough historical questions in the Navajo language and showcase their spiritual and practical knowledge of practices like governance, traditional singing, or butchering a whole sheep.

As Luther follows one quietly powerful contender and interviews winners from the past five decades, we begin to glimpse the multivalent power of the pageant. Miss Navajo serves as a positive model for other young Navajos and an ambassador for her people (one recalls meeting Robert Kennedy when he testified before the subcommittee on Indian education). But the film subtly illustrates the sacred dimension of Miss Navajo as well--how participation places the young women on a timeless matriarchal continuum that goes back to creation and the first Diné life-giving ancestor: Changing Woman.
--© Sundance Film Festival

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Critic Reviews for Miss Navajo

All Critics (2) | Top Critics (1)

  • Given the film's tenderness and frankness -- and some spectacular cinematography -- educational and arthouse exposure may come its way.

    Feb 7, 2007

    John Anderson

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • A welcome antidote to the dominant society's usual soulless spectacle of the female sex object glamour girl gladiators beauty pageant scrutinized so brutally in the feature film Little Miss Sunshine.

    Oct 23, 2007 | Full Review…

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