“Boys State” documentary investigates youth, politics

Photo courtesy of American Legion California Boys State on Facebook


During the last presidential election cycle there was a Hilary Clinton ad that went after Donald Trump’s demeanor. It featured young children watching press clips of Trump mocking his opponents, the press and being (for lack of a better word) a giant douchebag. It challenged the viewer to ask themselves what example they would set by electing him to lead this country. What could happen if we normalize this sort of behavior? The documentary Boys State, answers this question. 

Boys State is a highly selective educational program from the American Legion with the goal of providing young men with hands-on, legislative experience (there also exists a Girls State). They pass bills, create party platforms, campaign for office, and elect candidates into office. It’s a highly regarded program, with alumni including names like former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Dick Cheney and radio show host Rush Limbaugh.

Those names loom in your head during the film and you can’t help but wonder which of these boys will find similar success. Shot in 2018, the film follows the Texas branch of Boys State, focusing on four boys: two party chairs (Ben and René) and two gubernatorial candidates (Robert and Steven). 

By far the most interesting of the four is Robert. He seemed very simple at first:. aA rich white boy who ran on a pro-life, pro-gun platform. But halfway through, it’s revealed that he actually doesn’t believe in half of what he’s saying. It’s all for the crowd, an appeal to the thousands of teenage, conservative Texans voting him into office. 

This provides an interesting contrast to wide-eyed, naïve Steven, who finds some success speaking his mind, but runs into trouble when his left-leaning views are found out on Instagram. It’s a fascinating peek into the seeds of American politics. These young boys learn early that policy is meaningless — so long as you walk the walk.

Social media plays a large part in this pseudo-campaign. This is probably the only documented “election” where everybody involved grew up using social media. So, it’s no wonder they find success in online campaigns. Memes, gag accounts, you name it. Boys State gives us a look into the ever-evolving landscape of politics. 

Right now, it’s easy to see these kids as what they are: immature 17-year-old boys. But these 17-year-olds could be our future lawmakers, governors, even presidents. And that may not be such a bad thing. 

One of the big takeaways from René’s story is that, at the end of the day, these are mostly good kids. The documentary does a good job of painting them all in a positive light despite their political beliefs. It’s clear they have some growing up to do, but who doesn’t?

Boys State is a unique look at the youth of today, especially how they engage with important issues in today’s political climate. Along with some great visuals, quality camera work and compelling narrative, Boys State is a strong contender for documentary of the year.

FINAL REVIEW: 4/5 stars