What do Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Cory Booker, and Rush Limbaugh have in common? They are all Boys State alumni. Since 1937, the American Legion has hosted Boys State in every state but Hawaii, a competitive, exclusive summer program for politically engaged high school boys. Apple TV’s new documentary Boys State, directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, takes a deep-dive into the 2018 Texas Boys State. The documentary focuses on four boys in particular, each coming from politically diverse backgrounds and with different ambitions. First divided into political parties (either the Federalists or the Nationalists), the boys then build their government by voting on party platforms and running for office.
As the name suggests, Boys State is all about the boys. The only time girls are taken into consideration is in the beginning, where a title card simply states that a separate program exists for girls. This is only revisited once when one of the main characters suggests in passing that there should be a “human state” instead of separate boys state and girls state programs. With the patriarchy nurtured and unchallenged, the boys charge on full steam ahead. Guns, abortion, and immigration are all hot topics considered for both party’s platforms. When the boys aren’t in session, they’re engaging in a competition of sorts in performative masculinity—challenging each other to push-ups, huddling like they’re playing football, and breaking out into a chorus of “USA! USA! USA!” However, we do see the boys emotionally open up to each other, as tears and hugs are plentiful as the program comes to an end.
Boys State is a maddening yet gripping case study on masculinity and American politics. A glimmer of hope is offered through main character Steven Garza, who had a hugely successful campaign, despite being a son of immigrants and a March for Our Lives supporter amongst a sea of white boys who were likely raised on Fox News. However, the film’s indifference towards women must be noted. Girls are equally as big of a part of America’s political future as these boys. And as we posited in our blog last summer, combining these events would dial down the hyper masculinity on display at what are supposed to be leadership conferences after all.
Take Action! Boys State is worth the stream on Apple TV, but be sure to watch with a critical eye.