Ready to play for the Oscar, available on Apple TV +, Boys State is the documentary on the week in which in Texas, for more than 80 years, a thousand young people have been training to build a democracy, complete with an election campaign and election of the head of state.
One thousand and one hundred boys in search of the secrets of American democracy. Only one will be elected governor. Every year, since 1935, a group of young people gather in the most liberal heart of Texas, the state capital Austin, who Ethan Hawke, Terrence Malick, Matthew McConaughey e Richard Linklater they call home. They bring them together and select the leaders of the America Legion, an organization of military veterans who served in wartime. They meet for a week, they study, confront each other, choose to run: the most reserved for the Senate or the House of Representatives, perhaps even attempting to climb to speaker, president of parliament, while the most charismatic or convinced challenge each other for the crucial role, that of governor of Texas, the non plus ultra for Boys State.
They come from very different social and political backgrounds, even if conservatives prevail, as is normal in Texas, and minorities have limited space. “I’ve never seen so many white people in my life, ever,” as an African American boy vying for a leadership role in his party says. Yes, the boys must in fact divide into parties, here called Federalists e Nationalists, whose platform they will shape with proposals and debates. Consent is the key element with which to be heard, making its way into audiences of electrified teenagers. At first they seem to take it as a game, like blaming him. They propose motions that are not exactly central to their formation such as the ban on pineapple in pizza, although I imagine for many of us it may be central, or they come to the provocation of demanding the secession of Boys State, not even of Texas, from the United States.
With the passing of the days, however, with the identification of young people with the greatest ability to attract consensus, who become the protagonists of Boys State, the documentary directed by Amanda McBaine e Jesse Moss, all they begin to enjoy us, to commit themselves more and more, increasing attention in the classroom and the time for reflection before voting or simply speaking.
A coming-of-age story, which inevitably confronts diametrically opposed worlds: from the white wasps just out of the football field, ready to launch into the world of university brotherhoods, with their values of masculinity and protection of freedom and tradition, to minorities that are the first to appear in school and academic classrooms, ready to do anything to enter those of power and give credit, with deeds, to the great sacrifices of mothers or grandmothers who emigrated to the USA a few years or decades earlier. People like Steven Garza, mother born in Mexico, possessed by an unbridled passion for politics ever since he attended a meeting of Bernie Sanders. A pure man, adored by his supporters, who made many spectators say, “if he ran for the presidential elections in place of Trump and Biden, I would vote for him immediately”. Trust me, you’ll love Steven Garza, as well as these adolescents capable of being moved by politics, of working hard to make the world even just a little better than they found it.
Observing them there is to be optimistic, certainly more than observing “real politicians”, thinking that the health of American democracy can be improved with the next generations. It remains however, and it is the most interesting and disturbing thing of the documentary, the dividing line in the way of doing politics is already very clear, between the goodwill bordering on the candor of Garza and the cynical ability of those who already stage dirty games and fill their mouths of phrases like this, “A message of unity, however beautiful it may sound, will never win any election”. The astute planner seems ready for a career in politics that is struggling to regain its polish and the respect of the voters. One of the boys, injured because defeated, teaches us well, defining him like this: “he’s a fantastic politician, but I don’t think it’s a compliment”.
The ideal and its practical realization: an increasingly sidereal distance in recent years, with the hope that, even through the example of this handful of a thousand young people, it can be made less and less, seeking a consensus that respects the voters. This film is a self-analysis in the mirror of American democracy absolutely not to be missed, valid as it is also in the rest of the world. A real jewel, interesting, instructive, but also exciting, irresistible and, we would never have imagined, in the end also moving.