The Quarantine Stream: 'Boys State' Paints an Infuriating Yet Hopeful Portrait of American Politics
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Boys State
Where You Can Stream It: Apple TV+
The Pitch: In Boys State, a thousand Texas high school seniors gather for an elaborate mock exercise: building their own state government. The film closely tracks the escalating tensions that arise within a particularly riveting gubernatorial race, training their cameras on unforgettable teenagers like Ben, a Reagan-loving arch-conservative who brims with confidence despite personal setbacks, and Steven, a progressive-minded child of Mexican immigrants who stands by his convictions amidst the sea of red. In the process, they have created a complex portrait of contemporary American masculinity, as well as a microcosm of our often dispiriting national political divisions that nevertheless manages to plant seeds of hope.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: In addition to the last four years of American governance being an absolute clusterfuck, the year 2020 was especially wrought with political turmoil due to the 2020 election cycle. Though you’re probably tired of all the bipartisan bickering mudslinging, allow me to implore you to endure a little bit more of it by digging into this documentary that illustrates how the state of our government and political system has an important influence on young minds. And while much of the nightmare that has unfolded over four years has bolstered some of the worst tendencies in political discourse, there’s always hope for the future.
For those who don’t know, Boys State is a participatory program sanctioned by the American Legion in all the United States except Hawaii in which students become part of the operation of local, county and state government by creating a mock campaign and election at the city, county and state government levels. But rather than being labeled as Democrats or Republicans, they’re separated into Nationalists and Federalists, even though each of the parties still skews towards the same political party ideals that are pushed today.
The documentary film from directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine unfolds in Texas and hones in on a few individual teens who become key players in the mock election process. Since this documentary takes place in the South, it comes as no surprise to hear the loud and proud support of the 2nd amendment and the complete teardown of abortion. But what is surprising is the groundswell of support that a more rational, progressive, and honest student gets in such a red state.
The breakout star of Boys State is undoubtedly Steven Garza (seen above), a kid from Houston who doesn’t want to take away guns, but makes a big push for universal background checks. This is a kid who led a March for Life protest in the wake of a school shooting near his own home. Even in the face of mudslinging from his young opponents, Garza never loses his cool, never tries to throw mud back, and he addresses his accusers and critics head-on with integrity and honesty, convincing plenty of his more radical colleagues of his leadership skills along the way. Steve is a bright spot in a plethora of teenage testosterone and misguided “men” who have clearly learned too much from the Donald Trump school of politics.
Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of Boys State that will absolutely infuriate you. But even in the face of all that, I felt encouraged by the presence of Steven Garza and the influence he was able to have on some of his fellow young minds. Some of our most experienced politicians in office today could really learn a thing or two from the next generation of leaders.
If you’d like to hear more about Boys State, read our review from Sundance earlier this year.
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