2021, NR, 96 min. Directed by Kim A. Snyder.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., June 11, 2021
You sometimes find the sentiment shared in corners of the internet – especially in those who represent the old guard of culture and politics – that The Youth are too uncompromising in their political beliefs. But perhaps it is important to remember the stakes for those impacted. For a generation who grew up with active shooter drills, the failures of the political arena are an inescapable reality. Us Kids, the new documentary about the Parkland survivors, reminds us that politics have literally become a case of life-or-death for the next generation of voters.
On February 14, 2018, 17 people were killed during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. But for a country desensitized by daily acts of gun violence, what happened next was a surprise: a group of Parkland teenagers chose to organize and used their newfound fame as a springboard for gun reform protests across the country. March for Our Lives, the resulting political movement, became synonymous with youthful activism, and Us Kids finally offers a first attempt – perhaps of many – to explore the impact Parkland had on electoral politics.
For many, the draw of Us Kids is a closer look at the survivors who threw themselves headfirst into political organizing. Based on their actions alone, X González and David Hogg deserve to be known in households across the country; the online abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of right-wing pundits and politicians has only hastened their celebrity. But this is a documentary about a movement, not two individuals, and filmmaker Kim A. Snyder pulls the camera back to include students in the March for Our Lives movement from across the country.
We meet Bria Smith, a Milwaukee teenager who connects the movement to gun violence in Black communities across the country. We also spend time with Samantha Fuentes and Cameron Kasky, two additional Parkland survivors whose social conscience takes them in different directions. In its most poignant moments, Us Kids captures the terrifying tradeoff that both Fuentes and Kasky make each time they share their story with other survivors. They can spread awareness of gun violence, but only at the risk of re-traumatizing themselves for each new audience. Their anxiety is causing them to physically fall apart, and Snyder captures the dark truth of movements born of human suffering.
And because of their sacrifice, it is a shame that there is not a more complete story to be told here. The National Rifle Association may be fading, but that has not prevented states – including this one – from pursuing looser gun restrictions, even as mass shootings tick upwards post-pandemic. Us Kids may inspire the next generation of student activists, but too much of the film explores the concept and not the tactics or strategy that students like González and Hogg et al. have honed to move the needle.
The sad truth is that Us Kids feels a bit too much like the thing the students hoped to avoid: a celebration of a moment in time, not the start of a revolution. If we are lucky, there will be a truly incredible film about the Parkland survivors someday, one that positions March for Our Lives as the beginning of something necessary and lasting for a generation of future voters. But that kind of documentary requires perspective, and perspective can only come with time. Here’s hoping theirs is a story worth telling and retelling for years to come.
Available now as virtual cinema release.