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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Democracy gets a makeover in Apple TV+’s ‘Girls State’

Apple TV+
Brooke Taylor and additional “Girls State” participants in “Girls State,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

When 500 young girls gather in one crowded room and begin to form their government, one might wonder, what could go wrong? Or, most importantly, what could go right? In the eyes of Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, welcome to the future of American democracy; it’s been in front of our faces the entire time, but now it’s making its way onto our screens.

Apple TV+’s new documentary “Girls State” follows the story of young female leaders from wildly different backgrounds in Missouri who navigate an immersive experiment to build a government from the ground up in a girl’s camp fashion. 

While capturing the lives of the young women, documentary directors McBaine and Moss discussed trying to capture both women building democracy and building themselves as individuals through the process as they followed girls creating their own Supreme Court and the race for Governor. 

“We have two teenage daughters. We start from that place in terms of thinking about their care and well-being. We’re asking a lot from them,” Moss said in a roundtable interview. “It began with the casting process and trying to identify girls who were going to go to the program that we were interested in and who we thought would be open to having a camera. It’s not for everybody. I think the girls we selected, we love because they’re ambitious and smart but also open.”

Transitioning from focusing on the directors’ approach to selecting the girls for the documentary, their careful consideration is evident in the film’s portrayal of these young women as they grapple with the weighty responsibilities of building a government and their identities. 

“Girls State” continues the documentary tradition set by “Boys State.” In 2020, McBaine and Moss embarked on a similar project, capturing a thousand young men from Texas to construct a representative government from scratch. Their approach to filming “Girls State” differs noticeably, focusing on the girls’ potential as future leaders and the moments where highly competitive women can share a laugh and be friends. 

When asked in a roundtable about including humor in a project with more profound meaning and choosing to leave these moments of authenticity, the directors stressed the importance of embracing imperfect moments. They highlighted how these genuine, unfiltered glimpses into the girls’ lives added depth and relatability to the film, showcasing the importance of their imperfect moments.

“Humor is there every day in our lives,” Moss said. “We strive to make films that represent the whole spectrum of human experience and documentary work, particularly this kind of fly-on-the-wall— although I hate that term— kind of work. When you live an intense life with somebody a day, the emotional register can go from high to low.”

McBaine and Moss aimed to create a documentary that balanced seriousness with energy, music, and fun while staying true to the teenage experience. 

“While there are really deep and important questions that motivate this project about our country, our future, our democracy, about partisanship and polarization and female representation,” Moss explained. “They’re 17, and they just cracked us up. They do outrageous stuff and have a way of looking at the world that makes us laugh.”

Reflecting on the juxtaposition of serious themes with the participants’ lighthearted spirit, Moss delves into the unexpected depth of their experiences. The audience witnesses two girls, Nisha and Emily, go through emotional changes and maturity while running for positions they ultimately did not obtain but earned something greater that a position could not teach them. 

“The film is an unexpectedly powerful portrait of defeat and loss and what you do with that. It’s not about winning for her; these are spoilers for her and Nisha, right?” Moss said. “It’s about what you do when you’re knocked down. For me, that just makes it a more potent story. Both Nisha and Emily pivot in surprising ways and grow as a result of those defeats.”

Central to Moss and McBaine’s narrative is the crucial conversation surrounding the representation of females within the political sphere. Through the lens of their subjects, Moss and McBaine aim to shed light on the evolving perspectives and approaches of young leaders in today’s world. Their mission extends beyond mere storytelling; they aspire for their film to catalyze empowerment.

Their vision extends toward a future where female voices are lifted and girls are empowered to elevate themselves and those around them.

“I hope through working on this film that we see the value of lifting their voices and the conversations they want to have around representation,” Moss said. “I’m just thinking of what Cecilia says, like how about a program that doesn’t condition people for sexism but trains them to combat it.”

Moss’s reflections on the film’s impact deepen as he connects the narrative to broader societal discussions. Moss and McBaine suggest that the documentary reflects the current political climate and a hopeful vision for a transformed and revitalized political landscape. The challenge for those seeing the film is to picture a new creation of democracy. 

“I think also importantly for people coming to the film, imagining a different kind of politics, like our country’s politics do seem so sick, ill, terminal, maybe,” Moss said. “To have a different, new, renewed politics, we have to imagine it. I think this film, hopefully through their eyes and their experience, kind of imagines that different kind of politics.”

Through the lens of “People State,” the two envision a space where dialogue, collaboration, and shared understanding can pave the way for a new era of leadership and governance. Moss’s proposition for “People State” echoes the themes explored in “Girls State,” emphasizing the power of diverse voices coming together to address societal challenges. Just as the young women in “Girls State” worked to build a representative government. 

“The follow-up project for us would be “People State” with 17-year-olds, seeing how young men and women can create a state together, confront these issues, talk about them, and find points of commonality instead of sowing division,” Moss said. “They have a lot to show us adults about a way forward because we certainly need a role model for new leadership.”

Moss envisions “People State” as a narrative continuation—where young men and women collaborate, confront issues, and seek common ground.

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About the Contributor
Clara Faulkner
Clara Faulkner, Business Manager
Clara Faulkner wears multiple hats at the Beacon, serving as both the Business Director and the Living Arts Editor. Prior to assuming these roles, she demonstrated her expertise as an assistant editor, specializing in living arts—a domain she is deeply passionate about, fueled by her love for pop culture and entertainment. Additionally, Clara served as a writer for the Boston Globe, Boston.com, is a part of NBCUniversal Entertainment Group, and contributed to the music team at Intersect Magazine. In addition to her editorial responsibilities, Clara actively participates in various campus organizations, including SPJ, Associate Entertainment Producer at WEBN-TV, programming director at WECB. fm, and AEPHI. Outside of her writing pursuits, Clara immerses herself in culinary exploration, cinematic enjoyment, and language acquisition, consistently seeking fresh experiences and knowledge.

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