For students, by students.

The GH Falcon

The GH Falcon

The GH Falcon

“Girls State:” A captivating female empowerment story

Girls State attendee Brooke Taylor seen taking a selfie with additional participants. Photo used with permission from Apple TV+.

Right before the world shut down in 2020, directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss released their highly acclaimed documentary, “Boys State.” Four years later, their follow up “Girls State ” released on Apple TV+ on April 5. 

“Boys State” and “Girls State” are essentially week-long summer programs built around civic engagement and leadership, both documentaries follow teenage men and women as they build up their own government system over the course of a week. They also feature programs in 49 of 50 US states. “Boys State,” set in Texas, functions as a spiritual prequel to “Girls State,” set in Missouri. 

Immediately, the documentary makes it clear who these girls are and what exactly they want to accomplish in the political world through the camp. For some, it’s running for government, while others it’s becoming Supreme Court justices. The film’s introduction features a scene where some of the girls are seated around watching the 2001 movie “Legally Blonde.” What may seem like a random scene to throw into the politically themed interviews, it also establishes the vibrant teenage personalities of these girls, outside of politics. At the end of the day, they’re teenagers and the film captures their energy and commitment to the camp and their views on politics. 

Director and producer Amanda McBaine is seen conducting an interview behind the scenes of “Girls State.” Photo used with permission from Apple TV+.

One thing “Girls State” does well is its exploration of leadership and the complexities that come with it. The documentary showcases the ways in which these teenage girls deal with conflicts of power, representation, and compromise as they navigate the political environment of Girls State. It captures the highs and lows of the girls’ experiences, from the exhilaration of winning an election to the heartbreak of defeat. It offers an honest portrayal of the challenges they face, as they strive to assert their voices and make a difference in a male-dominated area of politics.

Another highlight of Girls State is its focus on the diversity of its participants. The film shines a spotlight on girls from a wide range of backgrounds. From conservative to liberal, privileged to minority, the documentary showcases the complexity and depth to the girls’ identities, as well as the ways in which they come together to form a community in the face of a challenge. Through their interactions and debates, the girls challenge each other’s beliefs and confront their own biases, ultimately demonstrating the power of diversity in shaping a more vibrant environment.

The film also touches on the complex nature of youth. The documentary does a great job of capturing the raw emotions and insecurities of its subjects. Each of them grapple with the pressures of high school, family and relationships, all while navigating the demanding and competitive environment of Girls State. The film offers a candid and intimate look at the girls’ personal struggles and triumphs, shedding light on the universal challenges of growing up and finding one’s place in the world.

Even though the documentary includes  scenes where the girls discuss the current state of American politics, the film wisely remains fairly neutral. The documentary comments on political issues of the time, such as the press leak surrounding the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, it doesn’t need to deconstruct any one issue to preach a statement to the viewers. 

Instead, the documentary frames political conversations between the girls in a way that helps the audience understand their mindsets and optimism at the chance to make their voices heard. 

One of the main issues with the documentary is its lack of a central narrative. The film jumps between various girls and their personal experiences throughout the program, making it difficult for viewers to become fully invested in any one story. The lack of focus also contributes to the film feeling disjointed in the way scenes are cut together, as it never fully explores or dives into the deeper implications of the Girls State program. 

While individual moments in the film can make an impact on a thematic or emotional level, the film struggles to establish a clear sense of direction or purpose. While the program itself is inherently interesting and has the potential to offer valuable insights into the political aspirations of the teenage girls, the documentary fails to convey it. Instead, the film often feels like a disjointed series of events and conversations that lack a cohesive narrative arc or overarching message. All of the scenes leading to a film where the individual parts outshine the documentary as a whole and its purpose as a whole. 

Director and producer of “Girls State ” Jesse Moss behind the scenes with one of the primary girls featured in the film, Emily Worthmore. Photo used with permission from Apple TV+.

While both films make a point of showing the multifaceted mock governments, “Boys State” spent a significant amount of its runtime showcasing how each of them interacted together. While in certain ways, it does exist amongst everybody in “Girls State,” it’s not as prevalent or in depth as it was in “Boys State.” Since the documentary centers around different girls who each interact with certain people, the film never dives into either group as a center focus to drive the story forward. Instead, just a sequence of events strung together for a 98 minute runtime. 

The film’s pacing was inconsistent and, at times, slow. Some scenes drag on for too long without adding much to the overall story, while other potentially interesting moments of character development felt rushed or underdeveloped. For instance, one of the girls running for mock governor, Emily Worthmore, loses the election to another girl named Cecilia Barton. The film quickly shows her acceptance of her loss, and immediately jumps to her pursuing investigative journalism. 

Her goal, for the article she is seen writing at the end of the movie, was to analyze the differences between the funding and acclaim of both Boys State and Girls State. What should come off as a compelling arc to further delve into is instead sidelined to focus on less interesting scenes surrounding other girls after the election. Since the film is trying to spotlight different girls in a short runtime, the pacing ultimately detracts from the film’s overall impact and coherence. It does not fully tie loose ends and leaves certain scenes with too little screen time for comprehension. 

While the film features an uplifting message, powerful stories and captivating scenes throughout, the lack of a central narrative and the slow pacing makes the documentary a step down from its predecessor. The documentary features plenty of moments to make it a solid film that’s worth the watch, but not one to be re-watched all that often. 

In an interview with the GH Falcon, director Jesse Moss describes the process of how the crew managed to pick out six different girls to focus on, out of the 600 who attended. “It first began with the casting process and trying to identify girls who are going to go to the program that we were interested in and we thought would be open to having a camera pointing to them, which isn’t everybody,” he said. 

“I think that the girls we selected we loved as they were ambitious, smart, but they’re also really open to the camera and that’s not everybody. The process of interviewing hundreds of girls who were going to the program was to identify those small groups who we thought had those requisite qualities.” 

Moss also highlighted the various relationships that formed throughout the casting process that extended throughout the entire production crew. “We built a largely female crew that was really important to us to really be mindful of the gaze and intimate and public space that we were moving through and when we needed to put the camera down,” he said. 

“I think that the relationship that we value to pair cinematographers with subjects that we thought could get along and understand the cinematographers and they’ve done documentary work too and what the right boundaries were,” he said. “We shared the rough cut with the girls too and told them about the film and so that we could talk about or address any concerns that they had.” 

Directors and producers Amanda McBaine (left) and Jesse Moss (right) behind the scenes of their latest film “Girls State.” Photo used with permission from Apple TV+.

For director Amanda McBaine, she describes how the messaging of the film leads into discussions of commonality, a topic she feels is not as prevalent as it once was. “Talking about commonality is something that we don’t actually do quite as much as we talk about how different we all are,” she said. 

Being filmed in 2022, McBaine mentions how for the girls, it was the first time all of them were in the same room again after the US began to make its way through the COVID-19 pandemic. “I was surprised and refreshed to be in a space where these kids really wanted to find connection with one another, and maybe that’s an emotional legacy of COVID. Shooting this in early 2022, this was the first that everybody could gather in one space again as a group of 600 and just be together,” she said. 

“All that stuff matters and it makes me feel a sense of renewal of sorts and an interest and belief actually in the American project. That’s maybe the biggest surprise of all, which was being refreshed.” 

Leave a Comment
Donate to The GH Falcon
Our Goal

The staff of the GHFalcon would love a donation to help the journalism program at Green Hope continue to flourish. Many of our donations go to towards improving the materials that we deliver to you in electronic format. Thank you so much to those that are able to donate.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Max Spiegel
Max Spiegel, Staff Writer
Max Spiegel is a junior at Green Hope High School, and this is his second year on the staff of the GHFalcon.  Max made his way to Cary from his home state of New Jersey.  When not working on stories, Max spends his time relaxing, working at AMC Theaters, and playing golf. Max prefers to work in groups as it allows for ideas to be shared and reviewed. Max became a part of the staff due to his preference to work in groups in order to openly share ideas.  By joining the staff, he wants to expand his boundaries.
Donate to The GH Falcon
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Green Hope Falcon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *