Being a 'good politician' is not a compliment in 'Boys State'

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By Carrie Bright, First Year, Philosophy

As Trump rallies increase and divides solidify in the run-up to the US presidential election, Boys State (2020) acts as an alarming allegory for real life.

“What do James Gandolfini, Bruce Springsteen, and Dick Cheney all have in common?” asks A24 in the advert for its latest film, Boys State. It’s an intriguing tagline and an intriguing question, but what exactly is Boys State?

Courtesy of IMDb

It’s a programme where eleven-hundred 16- and 17-year-old Texan boys, full of hormones, confidence, and conservative views, participate in a mock government to learn about the democratic process. This is achieved by dividing into two imagined political parties, ‘Federalists’ and ‘Nationalists’, to hold an election. On the face of it, the film presents a bleak picture. A room of predominantly white boys, with a conviction borne almost entirely of privilege, proudly shouting to defend their masculinity, their guns, and to advocate for the criminalisation of abortion.

The outlook is not entirely unpromising, however. A glimmer of hope comes in the form of René Otero. Black, gay and markedly more left leaning than the majority of his peers, he delivers one of the film’s most striking lines: “I think he’s a fantastic politician” he begins, “but I don’t think a fantastic politician is a compliment, either”.

René Otero and Ben Feinstein | Courtesy of IMDb

Boys State makes clear the distinction between a good politician and a good person, and how in fact, they are quite often opposites. Whilst boys such as this restore some optimism in both government and the youth of today, two years on, Rene has decided against a career in politics, opting instead to take a decidedly activist stance.

A room of predominantly white boys, with a conviction borne almost entirely of privilege, proudly shouting to defend their masculinity, their guns, and to advocate for the criminalisation of abortion

This reflects the sad reality that it is more often the likes of his counterparts, the Ben Feinsteins (a 2018 participant featured in the film), Dick Cheneys and Bill Clintons (both former participants) who will go on to pursue a career in politics, and actually come to govern the USA.

Boys State has already garnered a flurry of praise with a string of four- and five-star reviews, as well as a win at Sundance Film Festival. Whether you find the film to be hopeful or depressing, an encouraging portrayal of the youth of today taking an active interest in the running of their country, or a disheartening display of conservativism, is largely dependent on your political views.

Ben Feinstein and Eddy Proietti Conti | Courtesy of IMDb

Whatever you glean from it, A24 once again delivers a fascinating glimpse into a subsection of US society, as they did so successfully with the likes of American Honey (2016) and The Florida Project (2017) (though these are both fictional), which will leave you shocked, unsettled, and maybe just a little bit inspired.

Boys State will be screened for one time only at the Watershed on Thursday 29th October, with an exclusive Q&A with directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine.

Featured: IMDb


Get a ticket to the screening here!

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