On the 14th August 2020 AppleTV brings us the Sundance winning documentary from Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss (“The Investigators (TV)”), Boys State.
Now, not being from America, I had no idea this even existed. Boys State follows the week-long annual program that sees 1,100 Texan high school students build their own mock government.
Splitting into two, Federalists and Nationalists, they must come together and vote for their leader, who will go on to be their candidate for the top role of Governor, as well as other members of the party.
The boys don’t get to choose which party they are in, so you see some who lean left, thrown in with those who most definitely don’t, and vice-versa.
Immediately we are thrust into the worlds of the main leaders; Robert McDougall, who wants to be the leader of the Nationalists, is a 17/18-year old white boy who you imagine is a ‘jock’, lots of shouting, bravado, getting stuck in.
He’s up against Steven Garza, an American with a Mexican mother who is the polar opposite of McDougall; quiet, speaking from the heart (McDougall freely admits he’s pro-choice, despite telling the gathering party members he’s the opposite).
The leader of their party (that might not be the right title, American politics is confusing to non-American’s!) is Rene Otero, a black student who is definitely on the Democrat-side of politics and faces calls of impeachment from his own party!
On The Federalists side we have Ben Feinstein, a young-man who lost both his legs to meningitis when he was three, and will stop at nothing to get his candidate to the top. That’s our main three, there are lots of others, but these guys take centre stage.
Outside of America there is a perception, particularly of the Southern States, that it’s all pro-gun, salute the flag, anti-immigration, god is everything and everyone chants “USA” whenever the opportunity arises.
Boys State does nothing to dispel that and, for the first half of the documentary, it’s cringeworthy for those of us hoping that the youth of USA may feel differently.
However, the outlook changes as time goes on, particular as the softly spoken Garza’s campaign begins to gather pace, when Otero begins to fire back and retain his position within his party.
Unfortunately, not to give to much away, but what Boys State also shows is that you can behave with all the credibility you wish, but where politics is concerned, it’s the underhand tactics that work.
Boys State is a fascinating documentary that draws you in, whether you wanted to be or not. If there’s a down-side, it’s that I’d love to have known more about the whole Boys State thing, those behind it, what they hope to achieve, I’d also really like to see the Girls State as well, the comparison would be fascinating.