Since 1935 the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary has been hosting thousands of high school juniors to teach them about self-governance and leadership. This illustrious program is called Boys State and is held in in the lower 48 states plus Alaska. There is also a Girls State which is held in all 50 states. Each year around 1000 young males are selected by a small group through various interviews to see if they possess the certain qualities that would constitute a career in politics. Boys State stretches the length of one week and once there the students will partake in many different activities.
Produced and directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, Boys State is held in Texas (a conservative state) in 2018. The young men are split into two groups: The Federalists and The Nationalists where the focus is on the state government level. The young men will hold elections, campaign, draft bills, hold debates, and making motions. Focus is primarily on the race for Governor although there are many other positions to run for. None of this is predetermined but as elections are held and the young men are split into their respective parties, the main political issue is centered around the second amendment and gun rights; it’s Texas after all.
From the opening sequence directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine highlight former attendees from the likes of former President Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney and Cory Booker. There are more politicians and high-profile celebrities that have attended Boys/Girls State, but it’s made abundant that the success of the few that are mentioned isn’t guaranteed. Out of the thousand or so young men attending, Boys State focuses on four men: Steven Garza, Eddy Conti, Ben Feinstein & René Otero.
Steven and René represent the Nationalists where Ben and Eddy represent the Federalists. Steven and Eddy are up for the candidacy of Governor where to be able to campaign, both young men need 30 signatures from their own parties. Ben and René are the parties respective district chairs. Ben is a double amputee who is able to take a losing situation and flip it to a winning one. He has the same conservative values as Ronald Reagan and will stop at nothing to win. René, who is originally from Chicago firmly stands up for his beliefs and isn’t afraid to speak his mind despite being up for impeachment. He also has never seen so many white people in his life before.
Each chair has a strong relationship with their Governor candidates. Strategy plays a major role in this fascinating documentary. Throwing a bunch of 16–17-year-olds in a compact room together is a huge risk, it’s a lot of testosterone and ego to control but control is never lost. With every speech Steven commands the room. Hes able to get his point across firmly without attacking the other side. Hes born to immigrant parents and is portrayed as the underdog to the more loud and abrasive Federalists led by Feinstein. It’s almost impossible to not root for Steven, even guys he was running against to win the candidacy for Governor nearly forfeit the race because of Stevens ability to spark the fellow Nationalists. A fifth man, Robert believes in pro-choice but understands his audience and lies about what he believes in to win.
As much as Boys State is an exercise for these young men, majority of the documentary shows off the true political landscape. These are real issues that are constantly argued and debated over and these 17-year old’s handle the topics with grace and understanding that the person next to them won’t agree with everything the other values. Politics is still cutthroat no matter what the age or topic is. Certain strategies work to get enough votes to win the Governorship and some fail miserably. It’s thanks to the brilliant mind of Ben Feinstein that sways the decision that ultimately decides who wins between Steven and Eddy. Each has a strong will to win and it’s that mentality that attracts people to politics.
Boys State’s strength highlights the differences in ideologies, the true underlying purpose of this weeklong exercise is to bring together a group of people to allow them to meet and interact with others they normally wouldn’t associate with. Strong bonds and friendships are forged instilling the true meaning of bi-partisanship and allowing others to see life through a different lens. Some learn this lesson better than others. This type of bond is made between Robert and Steven as Robert is left in awe of Stevens public speaking abilities.
Boys State is a captivating in depth look into the political system. Following a select few young men, Boys State’s main purpose is to bring those together who normally wouldn’t choose to be in the same room together. The experiment is the result of a compelling narrative that plays out where although there are no real winners and losers, its hard to watch some of these personable, all-around likeable people lose. I’d be lying if I said I wanted one to win the Governorship over the other. If this is a sample of the future of politics, the country is in great shape. If I were to rate Boys State, I’d rate it a 4.5 out of 5.
So, tell me, have you seen Boys State and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
Boys State is directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine is rated PG-13 and has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Boys State was released in theaters on July 31, 2020 and on streaming on August 14, 2020. Boys State can be streamed on Apple TV+.