2020 will go down in history as perhaps one of our most divisive years in history. At the heart of our way of life through and beyond the Pandemic is our political system, an intrigue of epic proportions such that no one can effectively make a decision or lead us through the ills that affect this great nation.
And then, “Boys State” comes along, a documentary so powerful that you have to stop for a minute, or 109 minutes, to catch your breath as you watch late teens use their beliefs to form a state government.
“Boys State” takes the lid off of the political process and demonstrates the next generation’s willingness to explore their ideologies and politics. Filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine engross us in a week-long annual program where a thousand Texas high school seniors descend on Austin to build their state government.
The subjects featured in “Boys State” are as impressive as the subject itself: to see high school students so charged up about, not only the political process, but their futures was quite remarkable. The film also uses each subject’s past in a unique way. Take Steven, for instance. The son of Mexican immigrants, he’s a quiet, easy-going individual. Don’t let his relaxed demeanor fool you; he is earnest when it comes to defending his position as we learn more about his heritage and what drives him toward the Governor’s seat.
Ben, a firecracker of an individual, makes his position known loud and clear as he competes against René for the party chairs. Ben, who wanted to enter the military, was unable to because of a disability. That disability, to a degree, defines his outlook and tactics, yet his disability is not a crutch. His passion and his cunning are on full display. René is as outspoken as Ben, but René uses the chaos to bring order as he works to defeat the other party.
The genius of “Boys State” is that we get to see that not only will the future generation define its politics, but we also realize that the same cycle of partisanship faces the next generation as much as it plagues us.
The film won the Grand Jury Award for documentary at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, which is a sign that perhaps not all is bleak with our future. Even in an ever-turbulent election year cycle, where the citizens and the political parties are as fractured as they’ve ever been, is there hope that someone might unite the parties, to lead us into prosperity?
“Boys State” sets out to offer some hope through its smartly defined cynicism.
The subjects that this film focuses on are cunning, they are opinionated (certainly more than I was at that age), and they are full of teenaged angst. The fireworks on display rivals the best of debates on television.
The difference is that we see these high schoolers raw determination for a clouded future. All we see of politics in the news is defined by the news commentators, limited by rules of comportment. “Boys State” is a guttural look at the raw power of politics.
Now streaming on Apple TV, “Boys State” is An Apple Original Films and A24 Release.
- Boys State