Politics is hell.
There’s the systemic corruption which pervades our democratic process, as well as the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the federal government which we’re taught, and there’s that mixed bag of stale and divisive political actors we’re forced to see and deal with.
“Boys State,” however, offers refuge from the bullshit of politics without censoring it and consequently creates a window into how intimate and raw a democracy could and should be.
The documentary, an Apple Original Films and A24 Release now available on Apple TV,
follows four young men — Steven, Ben, René and Robert — as they each go through the 2018 Texas Boys State competition to lead their respective and fictitious parties for the highest office of governor over a week-long period.
The Boys and Girls State is a national program hosted by the American Legion for nearly a century, engaging juniors and seniors in high school to establish a mock government. 2018’s convention, however — while it looks like it unapologetically smelled of Old Spice and B.O. under the Texas sun — offers a simultaneously inspiring and disturbing familiarity, for these were all boys I knew and have seen before.
Fortunately, the documentary captures the authenticity and complexities of its subjects rather than opting to look down on the younger population with a parental eye. The four boys are captivating as they are real. Their competitive hunger electrifies, their relationships are unpredictably dynamic, their victories are heroic and their losses are tragic. The unfolding drama is of Shakespearean caliber.
Robert, during his campaign for the gubernartorial nomination, declares his pro-life stance on abortion. In an aside, he would later reveal to the filmmakers his hidden stance as pro-choice, admitting he is tailoring his beliefs to win the party candidacy. Robert’s actions complicate and blur the lines between morally objectionable and morally ambiguous.
The subjects consistently walk between gray lines, and the filmmakers empathetically document them, adding to the relatability of the project and ultimately helping bridge whatever gap may exist between the democratic process and the 18-year-old who just registered to vote.
The modern United States, as it struggles with its identity, becomes reflected in who the boys are, how they conduct themselves, how they debate amongst each other and the types of policies discussed. The documentary gracefully fuses how the present country is influencing its sons while also offering insight into how the future of the nation may look in the leadership of this generation — for better and for worse.
Amidst a time of questionable authority, economic and social upheaval and a global pandemic, “Boys State” is art which can inspire the younger generation — upon whose hands the country’s fate rests on — to become politically invested and active within the communities in which they live.
Gabriel Biadora is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gabrielbiadora