‘Presenting Princess Shaw’ Captures the Fairy Tale of the YouTube Age
Samantha Montgomery decided to sit out Monday’s South by Southwest screening of her new documentary, Presenting Princess Shaw. The star of the film had attended screenings at previous festivals—watching the story of her rise from musical unknown to YouTube sensation, thanks to a chance discovery by a producer from across the world—and that was enough for her.
“I love it. I think it’s a beautiful documentary,” the 38-year-old tells TakePart. But like many performers, she finds it difficult to watch herself without judgment. (Disclosure: Presenting Princess Shaw is being jointly released by TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, and Magnolia Pictures.)
To be fair, Montgomery didn’t quite know what she was signing up for. In the beginning, Presenting Princess Shaw gives viewers an intimate look at Montgomery’s life working at an elderly care facility by day and pursuing a professional music career under the name Princess Shaw at night. Unbeknown to Montgomery, as she performs in near-empty venues around New Orleans and posts YouTube performances that garner fewer than 100 views per video, something is brewing thousands of miles away: Popular Israeli YouTube producer Ophir Kutiel, known artistically as Kutiman, is simultaneously working on a mash-up that showcases Montgomery’s song “Give It Up.”
Kutiel is known for taking segments of amateur music performances he finds on YouTube and mixing them together to create a cohesive song, often resulting in a hit that can earn hundreds of thousands of views.
For most of the film, Montgomery isn’t aware Kutiel exists. Director Ido Haar—who has been friendly with Kutiel for years and wanted to capture the moment a person’s life changes through a viral video—reached out to Montgomery and requested to film her daily life, telling her the documentary was simply about YouTube performers.
“In the beginning, I thought it was like, yeah, someone else selling me a dream, whatever,” Montgomery recalls, but she went for it anyway. “Any opportunity that I have, no matter how small, I’m going to take it.”
Although Montgomery says she was nervous when filming began, she appears at ease in front of the camera and allows Haar to capture some heartbreaking moments. Montgomery speaks candidly about the sexual abuse she endured as a child at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend, she tears up when she’s rejected from a reality talent show, and she laments being unable to afford electricity or repairs to her car.
Despite emotional and financial setbacks, Montgomery doesn’t let challenges get to her.
“I was struggling, but I still made it through,” she says of her refusal to give up. “I’m like that. I try to think positive until the end.”
That positive attitude makes the payoff of Kutiel’s song, featuring Montgomery’s vocals and lyrics, all the more sweet as it hits YouTube and amasses millions of views. In the film, Montgomery is completely surprised when she finds out about the project, soaking up compliments about her voice and advice to get an agent as she watches her life change.
“Life for me now is beautiful because I’m traveling all over. I get to meet people. I love inspiring people to be strong,” Montgomery says.
She’s continuing to work with Kutiel, and they plan to release another single. Still, despite the spark of fame, much of Montgomery’s life has remained the same.
“The best part about this is when I’m done, I go home to my normal life,” she says. “I’m content with my life the way it is. I’m comfortable, even though I’m not, like, a millionaire. I can afford my rent, my lights, and stuff like that. I’m OK.”
This story is presented in partnership with Participant Media, the parent company of TakePart and Pivot.