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Boy’s State

This documentary follows one class of Texas Boy’s State participants in 2018. Boy’s State is a program sponsored by the American legion that has been bringing high school junior boys together since 1935 (there is a Girl’s State equivalent that has been running since 1937). At the very beginning, we see that Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, Cory Booker, and Dick Cheney were all previous participants. The boys are randomly assigned to two parties, and for a week create a government and participate in elections, with the most coveted office being that of Governor. There are also talent shows, and they seem to sit in session a lot developing a party platform. The film focuses on three of the boys: Steve Garza, Latinx and the nationalist candidate for Governor; Rene Ortero, who is Black and the Federalist party chair; and Ben Feinstein, a double amputee who is the Nationalist Party chair. In a sense, these boys are a microcosm of the political landscape. I had to get over a couple of immediate reactions in order to really appreciate what I was seeing. First, the boys as a group seemed like a bunch of frat boys-to-be (albeit very smart ones) who are on the surface are hard to take seriously. That may be part of where the camera was pointing a lot of the time. The second is that this exercise would have been much more powerful had it been mixed gender; since we are talking about high school juniors, I can see understand the segregation on one level, but the reality of politics where women are playing a larger and larger role is rather missing. But putting those things aside, the film was fascinating to watch, equal in hope and (at least for me) horror for the future. I left the film feeling a bit disturbed; you see the kids play out the lying and smearing that the adults are doing with the “anything to get ahead” mentality. But buried in all of that are the seeds of some very smart kids who likely will be the political leaders of the future and get to test their chops in this event. Like a lot of kids, after a while, they kind of forget the cameras are there, which makes for an authentic viewing experience. The boys who are interviewed are articulate and amazingly self-reflective. I won’t say anything about how it turns out, because part of the fascination is being a “fly on the wall” and watching the different angles of the election play out. Thumbs up for me for a film that will probably resonate differently depending on your views of politics. It is definitely worth watching. (2020; 4 Stars)

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