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Culture Shock

A Discussion With the Cast and Crew of A24's BOYS STATE

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a press meeting with the cast and directors of the new A24 and Apple Originals film, BOYS STATE. Before the call, I had a chance to watch the movie for myself and was pleasantly surprised at how such a concept could result in such a captivating piece of storytelling.


BOYS STATE follows four young men during a week-long program by the same name. Boys from all over the state of Texas came together to participate in what is essentially a hyper-intense simulation of the modern American world of politics. Why Boys State? The previous year (2017) yielded an interesting result: the boys voted to secede from the union. 2018’s results were highly anticipated; “would it be civil war or would they ‘choose unity’ and reconcile?” The highest role one could run for is governor, though other positions held high prestige as well. With around 1100 high school boys, only a handful of positions, and a one-week built-in time limit, Boys State was a fierce battle to not only get voted into office but to get their names on a ballot, as well. We get to be up close and personal with four of the boys throughout their turbulent week—a chance to peek into their minds as they wrestle with tough dilemmas, such as how to strike a balance between their own personal morals and politics versus those of the general majority they found themselves surrounded by. Our main players had to play the game in order to get elected, but at what cost?


With only one week to capture the entire event, the crew of BOYS STATE had to make sure they captured all they could to tell a story. It was a unique situation where the filming was only half the battle. It took a year to cut and put everything together—to form the narrative and get the cast’s approval. Suggestions from cast members were encouraged, and those recommendations ended up making it into the final cut. BOYS STATE was a collaborative effort across all parties involved.

Meeting everyone – directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, and cast members Steven Garza, Robert MacDougall, and Ben Feinstein – via zoom was really exciting. Naturally, a lot of behind the scenes information was shared with us, like the checklist (or rather, lack thereof) the directors had when looking for subjects to follow for the week. McBaine and Moss intended on finding boys who were "politically sophisticated, smart, and ambitious,” and asked whether they planned on running for governor. Of course, diversity (both in politics and background) was important to keep in mind, as well. But most importantly of all, they wanted someone who was still able to be themselves while the cameras were rolling. While Steven, Robert, and Ben each checked all of those boxes before the start of the 2018 Boys State, the final subject for the film, René Otero, was found amidst the chaos. His story and character enthralled McBaine and Moss, so they invited him to be a part of the film.


BOYS STATE is a great documentary for many reasons, but one of my favorite things about it is that it is so real. According to all accounts, BOYS STATE stays faithful to the way things really went down that week, and regardless of the fact that cameras were around, everyone was able to enjoy the experience, proposing silly motions they knew would be rejected for the chance to participate. Other participants met along the way were only side characters of the story being told throughout the film, though their impact at Boys State that year was anything but off to the side. It’s impossible to tell the future, so McBaine and Moss had no idea ahead of time how their chosen subjects would emerge as leading players throughout the week. Leading players, yes, but governor? Not quite. This result fits the film better, though, than if one of our protagonists won the final vote. As the Boys State program mirrors current American politics on a micro-level, the experience as a whole mirrors life on an equal level; not everyone will win, and loss offers the unique opportunity to learn. Win or lose, though, Boys State 2018 was just the beginning for Steven, Robert, Ben, and René.

Just two years after Boys State 2018, America is gearing up for, what many might consider, one of our most important elections yet. Lessons learned at Boys State resonate in every American political arena, though I think current politicians could learn a thing or two from participants at Boys State. Now more than ever, the fate of our country is in the hands of voters—power to the younger generation!

BOYS STATE is an Apple Original Films and A24 Release. Now available on Apple TV+.



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