Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss Spotlight “A Better Politics” With ‘Girls State’ – Contenders TV: Doc + Unscripted

Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss Spotlight “A Better Politics” With ‘Girls State’ – Contenders TV: Doc + Unscripted

When filmmakers Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss first spoke with friends about the focus of their Apple TV+ documentary Girls State — a companion piece to their Emmy- and Sundance-winning 2020 documentary Boys State — they were surprised to hear about the expectations it conjured in their minds.

Following 500 teenage girls from Missouri as they navigate a weeklong immersion in a sophisticated democratic laboratory where they build a government from the ground up to address the most contentious issues of the day, the film would surely come down, the friends predicted, to mean girls looking, in Moss’ words, “to tear each other apart.”

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In reality, in spite of the political polarization that defines the U.S. today, the situation at Missouri Girls State was altogether different.

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Participants “actually do politics a little differently than you might expect from a teenage film. I think it’s a trope, actually, and they’re really interested to hear from people whose politics are different than their own,” Moss said on a panel with McBaine at Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted awards-season event. “They’re open, they’re changing. I think they don’t settle into the same boxes that us grown-ups do, in terms of how they identify politically.”

Certainly, Moss acknowledged, there are “some points of difference” between their subjects, many of whom are still cementing their sense of self. “But those are interesting, and they’re finding a space to have civil discourse.”

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He also opined that what the girls in the film display is “a better politics, frankly” than anything to be found in “the adult state.”

Particularly bearing in mind what McBaine terms “a representation problem in politics,” with women making up less than 30% of Congress, it’s spending time with subjects like those showcased in Girls State that gives the filmmakers hope for the future. “I find it so refreshing to be around this generation, and the people in particular who go to the Boys State and Girls State program are activated, energized, and idealistic without being naïve,” McBaine said. “I think they’re realists; they understand and see all the uncivil discourse, all the intractable-seeming problems in the adult world. But…I think some of the people we’ve met have been, for me, a reminder of the importance of the basics, like listening…[and] the value of seeing each other as human beings.”

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The hope with Girls State, McBaine said, is to “shift culture,” accentuating “counterprogramming” to all the “strong man politics” out there in the world, to dispel belief that this model offers a way forward for the world.

“As young people look for models of political leadership,” added Moss, “I think this [film] is a great place to start, and to start a conversation, too. Because we certainly need to find a new kind of politics in this country if we’re going to emerge out of this stormy sea.”

Check out the panel video above.

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