What happens when 1100 young men get together for a Summer leadership program in Texas, where they must run a successful political campaign and elect a "Governor"? The alarming and fully immersive documentary "Boys State" answers this question and gives us insight into how messy our system really is.
The American Legion sponsors this annual "Boys State" event (there is also a "Girls State"...perhaps this will be the sequel?), and anyone in attendance has been hand-picked to participate. These are the brightest and the best, from all over Texas (this program also takes place in several other states, but the Texan-version is what is spotlighted in this doc).
They all come in with the energy and the inexperience that so often goes hand-in-hand with high-schoolers. Many of them have idealistic visions of how their generation will be the change that the world needs. Too often though, they are anchored by the weight of their pre-conceptions of how the world works...or perhaps the ideals that have been instilled in them by their parents.
The goal is to create and run a successful political campaign. All coming in on equal footing, the 1100 boys are divided into two "parties" of 550...it is up to the boys themselves to figure out who will run for election, and who will work behind the scenes. Each party is responsible for coming up with their own platform, everything from gun policies to stances on abortion. They ALL vote for the coveted leadership position of "Governor," meaning that whoever ends up winning must have gotten some votes from the other side of the aisle, otherwise there would be a tie.
As in real life, personalities emerge and rise to the top...some based on their visions of the future, and some on their natural charisma. The specific crop of boys that are featured and followed in the documentary are selected perfectly, and what is amazing about each of their stories are how they evolve based on their experiences in their new political sphere.
One particular young man is a natural leader...you could tell he was probably super-popular at his school and perhaps the Homecoming King. He takes a hard stance on abortion, but confesses to the camera that he actually believes in pro-choice...he struggles with his civic duty to represent his constituents versus what is in his heart. Another boy starts off meek and unsure, but grows in confidence as the movie develops. Almost no one is left unchanged by the end, including the viewer.
Adults watching "Boys State" will recognize the frustrations caused by the hurdles that our system places in the way of true change, but these young men also inspire us with their brazen optimism. In all of the hopelessness, there is still hope. It may be a rude awakening to the give-and-take of politics for the teens of "Boys State," but at least eyes are being opened.
Run Time: 1 hour 49 minutes.
Directed by Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss.
"Boys State" is available on Apple TV+ on Friday, August 14th, 2020.
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