Presenting Princess Shaw

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Presenting Princess Shaw Movie Poster Image
Struggling singer finds YouTube fame in moving documentary.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 83 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Even if following your passion doesn't pay off financially, it still offers worthwhile emotional dividends. Failing to protect children from sexual predators can lead to deep, lasting damage.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Montgomery shows great inner strength. Sexually abused as a child by her mother's boyfriend, Montgomery recounts that she was told to hide her emotions and that if she cried, she was weak. Now she frankly spills her emotions in her songs and confessionals on YouTube. Kutiman is a musician who uses and appreciates the work of other talented musicians.

Violence

Montgomery describes being sexually abused as a child by her mother's boyfriend. When she tried to tell, her mother beat her. None of this is shown. Montgomery notes that men like her mother's boyfriend are looking past the mothers to their children, and then they "pick the weak ones." Tires are stolen from Montgomery's car.

Sex

Montgomery says she learned about sex early (in relation to being abused -- see "Violence" section), and she laments that no child should be forced to know about oral sex and penetration, as she was.

Language

Language includes uses of "f--k, "s--t," "hell," "damn," "ass," and the "N" word.

 

Consumerism

Montgomery eats at Burger King. YouTube is heavily featured.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes, and it appears that some also smoke marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Presenting Princess Shaw -- a documentary that portrays the difficulty of overcoming childhood abuse and deprivation -- is both deeply sad and very uplifting. Samantha Montgomery, who channels her pain and disappointments into songs she writes and sings on YouTube, discusses being neglected as a child by her mother and sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend. Adults are shown smoking cigarettes and marijuana. Expect to hear "f--k," "s--t," "damn," "hell," and "ass," as well as the "N" word. Amid the film's edgier content is the message that you should follow your passions; it also raises important questions about the nature of creative ownership, especially when the internet is involved. The movie is also known by the title Thru You Princess.

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What's the story?

By day, Samantha Montgomery is a caretaker at an assisted-living facility in New Orleans, cheerful, helpful, and singing "Over the Rainbow" to her charges. She struggles with poverty and works every day to overcome hideous childhood sexual abuse. But on her own time, she's Princess Shaw, a cherry-haired gift to the world who confesses her deepest thoughts and sings her own songs to her phone, then uploads the recordings to YouTube -- where, until recently, hardly anyone ever saw them. Enter Kutiman (aka Ophir Kutiel), an Israeli mash-up artist who uses strategically edited bits of work posted to the internet by amateur musicians. In PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW, we watch Kutiman take one note from a keyboard player and a riff from a guitarist and stitch it all together to "create" new works the way a collage-maker creates art by arranging and altering found objects. Inspired by Montgomery's a capella YouTube songs, Kutiman creates lush accompaniments. When his version of her song "Give It Up" went viral (2.5 million views to date), Montgomery learned of her "collaborator" for the first time (her stunned reaction is recorded here). Eventually she visits Kutiman in Tel Aviv, where they work together and put on a well-attended concert that seems to be the highlight of Montgomery's life.

Is it any good?

The filmmakers chose Montgomery wisely; the depth of her personal pain and the earnestness of her striving and optimism give this movie substance it might otherwise lack. According to Montgomery, director Ido Haar originally followed several of Kutiman's YouTube "collaborators," but slowly Presenting Princess Shaw whittled down to become a story about Montgomery, Kutiman, and their beautiful relationship. Kutiman deserves praise for, if nothing else, the joy he brought Montgomery by appreciating her art, by enhancing it, and by being inspired by it. This validation from another artist is what Montgomery -- poor, undereducated, and lonely -- craved her whole life. Watching the tears of joy she experiences after hearing Kutiman's version of her song for the first time is a singular moment that will touch most viewers and should be the kind of emotional truth that documentary makers aim to achieve.

But difficult questions are still raised. Kutiman neither pays nor asks the permission of his many "collaborators." This free use of artistic works uploaded to the internet expresses the philosophy of the free culture movement, which objects to stringent copyright laws and other exercises of ownership and financial control of art. Yet the irony is that, in some sense, Kutiman's efforts to use others' work and polish it into better, more marketable art makes him -- by force of his personality and drive -- exactly the kind of gatekeeper that many talented but financially naïve artists look for in the effort to promote their work. It's not that Kutiman exploits them financially. It's just that these are real people who are attached to the work he collects and uses, so you can't help but feel that they ought to be asked permission. On the positive side, in Montgomery's case, Kutiman's appreciation marked the first time she ever felt encouraged in her art by someone she respects. For that reason, it's hard not to love Kutiman for the hope and self-respect he gives her. The question the movie leaves unanswered is obvious: If there's a marketplace demand for their collaborations, will Montgomery make enough to quit her day job? The movie doesn't say, but in a subsequent interview, Montgomery does announce that she and Kutiman collaborated on an album that's nearing release.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the struggle of overcoming difficult childhood experiences. How has Montgomery dealt with her painful past? What helps people move on?

  • How much of a role do you think luck plays in how successful people are in life? How do factors like socioeconomic status affect someone's likelihood of success?

  • How does the film depict YouTube, both as a creative outlet and as a means to recognition/fame? Is it OK for kids to start their own YouTube channel?

  • Is it fair for mash-up artists like Kutiman to use bits and pieces of others' work to create new pieces? How far does ownership extend on the web? In other areas of life? How do questions like these tie into the idea of digital citizenship?

Movie details

For kids who love YouTube and creativity

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