Now more than ever, the idea that young people are unaware and unconcerned about politics seems to be misleading. The documentary Boys State, produced by A24 and distributed by Apple TV+, seeks to directly demolish this stigma.
Over the course of a hot July week in Austin, directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss give audience members a glimpse into a political exercise for youth, the Texas Boys State.
Every year, states across the nation bring together hundreds of 17-year-olds to engage in a political simulation. As the boys form parties to run for office in Texas, the film is an uncanny reflection of both the current state of politics in the United States and the hopefully bright future that lies ahead.
Coinciding with National Voter Registration Day on September 22, A24 scheduled several virtual screenings of the film across several college campuses, with one expected at Boston College in the coming weeks.
A24 also gave several college journalists the opportunity to speak with the film’s directors and three of its subjects, Ben Feinstein, Rob McDougall, and Stephen Garza. Several of us sat down with them to hear what meaning could be gleaned from their experience at Boys State.
When describing what he thought of his experience filming the Boys State, director Jesse Moss said he wanted to emphasize the impact his film could have. “What we hoped is, this little microcosm of Texas Boys State, which you might be tempted to dismiss, actually contains these powerful forces that we are wrestling with as a country,” Moss said.
As the film progresses, clear trends found in actual American politics take shape within the Boys State. Some boys try to start a smear campaign against a political competitor, albeit in Boys State they do it over Instagram. Other participants lie about their personal beliefs on topics such as abortion and gun control to avoid backlash. But alongside the lies and political naughtiness, some direct positive takeaways can also be found.
Rob McDougall, who acted like a typical macho cool guy in the film, spoke about the hope he has for America’s political future after watching himself relive his Boys State experience.
“In the end, I truly do think, and I think I saw, [the] vast majority of people want the same thing,” McDougall said. “They want what’s best for their state, their city, their country. They want what’s best, it’s just how they want to get there that’s so different.”
Stephen Garza, who serves as the underdog hero of the film, put his desire for future change in his own words.
“I think that all too often, our politicians are super disconnected from the people whom they affect,” Garza said. “If they took the time to meet those people and talk to them and listen to them, we could have a much better system. A system that replaces this kind of old indifference of modern politics with true, genuine empathy and genuine care.”
With much political uncertainty ahead, the directors and subjects all agree that there is a lot to learn from their experience. Even if it’s only fueled by naive, teenage idealism, Boys State offers important lessons about the future of American politics.
Photo Courtesy of Apple TV+