‘Girls State’ Places Focus on Youthful Optimism, Politics

‘Girls State’ Places Focus on Youthful Optimism, Politics April 5, 2024

The new AppleTV+ documentary “Girls State” released today, offering a glimpse into the future of American politics through the eyes of 500 teenage girls from across Missouri. Produced and directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine (“Boys’ State,” “The Mission”), the film centers a week-long immersion where these young women navigate the complexities of democracy, from grassroots campaigning to forming a Supreme Court.

Participants in “Girls State,” now streaming on Apple TV+. Image courtesy of AppleTV+.

Following the success of “Boys State,” Moss and McBaine found themselves compelled to explore the untold story of “Girls State.” “We felt that there was unfinished business,” Moss reflects, “we were interested in how the girls would practice politics, address the issues consuming us all, and confront the divisions of our country.”

With a nod to the uniqueness of each gender’s experience, the filmmakers consciously avoided replicating “Boys State,” opting instead to allow “Girls State” to be its own entity. As parents of teenage daughters, Moss and McBaine brought a personal dimension to the project, understanding the dynamics perhaps more intimately than before.

Central to the documentary’s success are the young women themselves, who Moss describes as having “the vulnerability, charisma, and confidence to invite us in.” Casting became a process of meeting numerous individuals until the right characters revealed themselves, allowing the story to unfold organically through their experiences and interactions.

While “Girls State” offers an intriguing political narrative, it also provides a safe space for dialogue and discussion, even on the most divisive issues. McBaine emphasizes the importance of these spaces, where young individuals, still flexible and open, can engage in constructive dialogue despite differing political views. However, the filmmakers noted a shift in 2022, with a noticeable increase in caution when discussing politics, reflecting broader societal trends of polarization and division.

“I will say that this film was shot in 2022,” Moss explains. “We noticed a lot more caution in getting into talking about politics, even from the four years earlier when we filmed ‘Boys’ State.’ I can’t tell you whether that was just girls versus boys or just 2022 versus 2018.”

Reflecting on the future, Moss and McBaine express both concern and optimism. While acknowledging the “intractable” problems facing society and the failures of the adult political establishment, they draw hope from the optimism and activism of the girls they encountered. McBaine highlights the frustration felt by many young people towards the current political gridlock and emphasizes the need for fresh perspectives and new voices to break through the stagnation.

Indeed, the girls featured in “Girls State” embody a generation unbound by traditional party affiliations, with many expressing fluid political identities. They are acutely aware of the limitations and challenges facing women in politics, yet remain determined to effect change and redefine what is possible politically.

“I think that what gave us hope is that these girls we met are not cynical,” Moss says. “They’re optimistic. They’re throwing themselves into understanding the process of democracy, the messiness of democracy and finding their voice.”

In “Girls State,” Moss and McBaine have once again produced a balanced documentary which serves as a testament to the power of youth, optimism, and dialogue in shaping the future of democracy. Through their lens, viewers will see a generation poised to challenge the status quo and forge a path towards a more equitable and just society.

“Girls State,” directed and produced by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, is currently streaming on AppleTV+.

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