Film Reviews
Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

An energetic, working community emerges in Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’ “Girls State” as hundreds of Missouri high school teenagers share a week, June 2022, on Lindenwood University’s campus. There they organize into groups and form a government. including self-declared candidates campaigning and the entire citizens collective electing a Governor, Supreme Court Justices, an Attorney General, and more.

As each candidate promotes herself, alliances are formed and competition amplified amidst tense nerves. These five hundred diverse Missourians bond, debate, strategize, and gain immense insight into the democratic world. As in the U.S. at large, ethnicity and equality matter, especially since, for the first time, Boys State is taking place at the same time on the Lindenwood campus with notably, inequitable differences. This issue, however, receives brief attention, as do several of the individuals competing for positions.

Each of the three central young women profiled pushes intently and, at times, a bit desperately for election. Some of their self-promotion is spot on with other marketing strategies naïve, even annoying. However, all engage enthusiastically and optimistically, whether assigned to the Nationalist or Federalist party. Most impressive, many cooperate with each other, avoid derision and snarky attacks despite stark differences in urban, suburban, and rural backgrounds.

To their credit, individuals address sensitive, critical issues amidst conservative versus liberal agendas: gun violence and multiple mass shootings, climate crises, religion, racism, abortion, and a woman’s right to her own body (Roe v. Wade was overturned the week after “Girls State” concluded.) In a jam packed 94 minutes, the women and the film cover a lot of territory with a large cast captured both candidly and guardedly in numerous assemblages and events. There’s so much happening that occasionally the film feels scatter-gun and hectic, with the exception of a couple of participants more fully profiled late in the film. Nevertheless, this intensive and exhaustive week leaves me heartened by the serious, involved young women who are, after all, our future. “Girls State” is streaming on Apple TV+.

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