Apple+ Documentary “Boys State” Aims to Show Americans That Unity is Possible With Hopeful, Entertaining Look at Tomorrow’s Politicians
“Boys State,” a new documentary hitting Apple+ later this month, seeks to show Americans that unity between opposing parties is possible, even ahead of a particularly contentious election season.
“We as filmmakers were struggling to understand that political division and polarization in our country which just seems to get worse every year,” filmmaker Jesse Moss told The Christian Post. “We really wanted to make a film looking at our common ground; can we find a center in American political life?”
About two years ago, Moss, along with fellow filmmaker Amanda McBaine, found the subject for their next documentary: The Texas American Legion Boys State, the annual American Legion-sponsored leadership conference attended by more than 1,000 teens at the Texas State Capitol.
At Boys State, teens learn about American democracy by organizing political parties and running a mock government for seven days. Founded by the American Legion in 1935, Boys State operates in nearly every U.S. state and bills itself as “among the most respected and selective educational programs of government instruction for U.S. high school students.”
In 2017, the program made headlines after the mock legislature voted for Texas to secede from the United States — a controversial move that caught the attention of Moss and McBaine.
“We read the story about the 2017 Texas Boys State legislature voting to secede from the U.S., and we thought, ‘What a great prism to look at politics and gridlock and polarization today,’” Moss recalled.
“What’s interesting about the program is that you have boys from across Texas with different politics getting together in a room to talk to each other,” he continued. “It seems like it doesn’t happen in many spaces in America so we leaped at the opportunity to take our camera into that space.”
At Boys State, over 1,000 teens are divided into rival parties, the Nationalists and the Federalists. The opposing parties attempt to build a mock government, electing every position from attorney general to state party chairman. The event culminates in the election of one student as governor.
Filmed during the 2018 Texas Boys State session, Boys State follows four “statesmen” throughout the week: Steven Garza, Robert MacDougal, Ben Feinstein, and Rene Otero. With opposing political viewpoints, diverse backgrounds, and different social values, the filmmakers knew the four teens would make compelling subjects.
“I was so surprised by their level of political engagement,” McBaine told CP. “They were so sophisticated, not only in the campaigning but also in the emotion of it. I was deeply moved by the whole event. I was really surprised by how emotional it all was.”