Documentary Follows Beauty Queen Who Fought Censorship

By Catherine Yang
Catherine Yang
Catherine Yang
April 3, 2017 Updated: September 30, 2017

When documentary filmmaker Kacey Cox heard that Anastasia Lin, an actress he’d previously worked with, had won Miss World Canada based on a platform for human rights—and would have to enter China to compete in the finals—he knew he had to film her journey.

“You couldn’t have written a better story,” Cox said.

Miss World is a U.K.-based pageant with the motto “beauty with a purpose,” and Lin brought a message of religious freedom to the stage. She was outspoken about human rights atrocities in China, like the persecution of practitioners of various faiths, and the Chinese regime’s harvesting of organs from prisoners of conscience.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not known for taking criticism—there have been many cases of foreign citizens being arrested in the country for speaking out about issues like Lin has. She was admittedly nervous when she first got the news of where the finals would be held.

Cox and Lin met briefly soon after Lin won Miss World Canada, and Lin mentioned the finals venue had been moved from Australia to China. At first, the implications didn’t register with Cox. He congratulated her, and they parted ways. 

Then as he was walking away, it clicked—Lin was going to be walking into the lion’s mouth. He chased after her, all the way down to the parking lot, and told her they had to make a film about it.

The result was the documentary “Anastasia Lin: The Crown,” currently screening at film festivals internationally and soon to be shown at the Manhattan Film Festival, on April 25.

The film reveals a side of China that is still little known, one governed by a covert body that effectively silences dissent. 

As every major media reported in the aftermath of the 2015 Miss World pageant, Lin was barred from entry by Chinese officials and received little assistance from the Miss World pageant organizers. In making the film, Cox followed Lin as she made multiple attempts to get answers and gain entry to the country. The film also succinctly illustrates her personal story.

At one point, Lin sheds light on why she became such a passionate advocate for human rights. She confesses that as a young child in China, she was considered a “good student” because she was the class organizer who made sure all of the other students studied the CCP’s propaganda and viewed the Party’s enemies as their enemies. It wasn’t until she left the country that she realized how misled people inside China still are. The realization led her to dig into the lies the Party asked others to repeat.

As Lin continued speaking out about human rights abuses while in the international spotlight as a beauty queen, she started getting pushback.

Inside China, articles about Lin were either blocked or completely altered to the point where they seemed to be written about another person entirely. Her name and her photo were changed to show another Chinese woman. 

Then Lin’s father, who lives in China, started receiving threats. He called to advise her to back down, admonishing her for criticizing the Party. Then, as Cox documented while traveling with her, Lin started receiving threatening phone calls herself.

Cox filmed Lin as she took a flight from Canada to Hong Kong with plans to enter Sanya City, a resort town in China that has unique rules that don’t require entrants to have visas until after they arrive.

The trip was an incredibly tense. “It was the shortest 16-hour flight I’ve ever been on,” Cox said.

China declared Lin “persona non grata”—an unwelcome person, or someone not allowed into the country—and when she landed, she was crowded by media. Interviews and media appearances continued on for the next eight days; Cox observed as Lin stayed up until 3 a.m. to give interviews to overseas media outlets. Her opportunity to compete was over, but her human rights platform and calls to hold China accountable were more relevant than ever.

“I felt that a documentary could amplify her message, which is one of ending the persecution of groups like [the spiritual practice] Falun Gong in China, and religious freedom for people around the world,” Cox said. Human rights and religious freedom are issues Cox has always also felt strongly about, and he felt personally invested in the story from the beginning.

While following Lin on this journey, he felt he was really seeing “beauty with a purpose” in action. On a trip to Geneva, Switzerland, where Lin spoke at a U.N. forum about human rights, young fans approached her and told her about how she’d changed their perception of beauty queens.

“It’s a person’s purpose that makes them beautiful,” Cox said. The film doesn’t talk much about pageant perceptions, but this message colored his making of the documentary. He made a film that he hoped would clearly explain Lin’s cause and purpose, and hopefully inspire others to act with similar conviction. 

“Anastasia Lin: The Crown” will screen in New York at the Manhattan Film Festival on April 25 at 5 p.m.