Thursday, June 13, 2024

Girls State movie review & film summary (2024)

Boys State, sponsored since the 1930s by the American Legion, and Girls State, sponsored since the 1940s by the American Legion Auxiliary, are programs in every state but Hawaii that bring high school students together for a week to create a government, including appointment of a Supreme Court and election of a governor. Like its predecessor, this film is perceptive about these impressive young women who display dedication, seriousness of purpose, and genuine public-spiritedness. It also shows us some endearing naivete (one says she wants to be President of the United States, a broadcast journalist, and a rock star), and their embarrassingly accurate imitation of what they have absorbed from careful observation of some of the failures of our national politics. At least a few of the participants figured out that teachers may tell you a candidate gets more votes by showing competence and reliability and a forthright statement of policies and priorities, but they can do better with a rousing speech about how right and powerful and deserving the voters are.

This film was made in the spring of 2022, just after the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft decision in the Dobbs case, showing that the Court planned to overturn the right to abortion, but before the decision was announced. Understandably, this was a topic of intense interest for the teenage girls gathering to debate the most complicated and controversial issues of policy and politics. Indeed, one of the film’s highlights is the extremely sophisticated and thoughtful challenge to Missouri law requiring counseling before an abortion that is the issue in Girls State’s sole Supreme Court case, expertly argued by two young women and thoughtfully considered by seven robed “justices.” One of the film’s most vibrant characters, Tochi Ihekona, from an immigrant Nigerian family, ably argues in support of the law, contrary to her personal views. 

The film begins some historic photos of important political gatherings, each featuring just one woman, including Justice Sandra Day O’Connor with her colleagues and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the Oval Office. And then the first speech we hear from the Girls State podium frames the issue in the present. One of the young women tells the attendees that she wants to be like Glynis Johns in “Mary Poppins,” calling for women’s suffrage in a “soft, fluttery voice” that “exudes strength.” “She is powerfully feminine,” the speaker continues, cautioning her fellow participants to resist the temptation to get loud. 

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HomeReviewsGirls State movie review & film summary (2024)

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