Houston Matters

‘Boys State’ Documentary Is Like ‘Lord Of The Flies’ Meets Politics

The film offers an inside look at an event where Texas students wrestle with forming a mock government. Houston Matters talks with the directors and a local participant.

Boys State subject, Steven Garza of Houston, faces down one of the toughest-known crowds: a room full of teenage boys.

As we get closer to the November election, politics will be even more top-of-mind for many Americans than it already is.

But, even in years without a national election, politics is the sole focus of the hundreds of young men who attend the annual Texas Boys State program sponsored by the American Legion.

The program is featured in the new documentary Boys State, which offers an inside look at the 2018 event and follows four of the participants as they navigate the intricacies of developing a political party and campaigning for mock positions like governor, attorney general, or party chair.

The movie is directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine and takes place in Austin. Some of the action takes place in the state capitol building itself.

The combination of that majestic backdrop with the high-octane energy of the teenage boys might cement what many people already know about politics: it's messy, and more things are decided behind the scenes than what most of us get to see. However, some interesting matters were decided in full view:

  • All Prius drivers were exiled to the state of Oklahoma
  • The pronunciation of the letter “w” as “double-u” was too difficult so the pronunciation was changed to “dubya” in all schools
  • Pineapple pizza was banned
Boys State Participants
Rene Otero (second from right) is one of the few people of color in the majority white and conservative Boys State event.

On this edition of The Bigger Picture, the Houston Matters monthly discussion of the issues and ideas addressed in film and television, producer Joshua Zinn talks with the documentary’s directors.

Then he speaks with Steven Garza, one of the subjects of the film (who’s from Houston and a student at UT-Austin) about how young people are getting involved in politics these days.

Boys State Movie PosterLighthearted matters aside, one of the convention’s tasks was grappling with a subject on everyone’s mind back in 2018: gun rights and the second amendment.

The event took place just three months after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. and just weeks after the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston.

In a sober moment, an emotional yet stoic Garza makes a plea to his peers who experienced the Santa Fe shooting.

“Not too long ago, Sante Fe was shot up not too far from where I live, and that — it hurts, man,” Garza said in the documentary. “You know…those people, these kids who shouldn’t go through these things. We can do something about it. We don’t have to just — because we don’t agree on everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t come to the table and talk to each other.”

Boys State premieres Friday (Aug. 14) on the Apple TV+ streaming service.

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