A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
It's possible to stay hopeful and inspired by the prospect of politics, even in the face of the uglier side of campaigning. People and groups with different/opposing viewpoints and priorities can still work together and respect one another. Themes include communication, empathy, integrity, and teamwork.
Positive Role Models
All three finalists are ambitious, public service-oriented, intelligent, charismatic. They want to work for everyone, not just those who agree with them. They remain hopeful about civic engagement and politics, are involved in their school and local communities.
Film's finalists include a young Black man, a young Jewish woman, and a White-presenting young man. The Black candidate comments on his race and looks for support from Black caucuses, but that's not a main focus of the documentary. But there is a major subplot about the Jewish candidate being unknowingly targeted by a bigoted faction of students who make antisemitic remarks on a private social media platform. She remains dedicated to her campaign, accepts help to stop the "neo-Nazi" group of voters.
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Violence & Scariness
Antisemitic and misogynist comments made by a small faction of students upset Piper, but she doesn't feel unsafe.
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Infrequent use of words like "stupid," plus references to hurtful misogynistic and antisemitic remarks (but the remarks themselves aren't repeated).
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Products & Purchases
Glimpses of Apple products and other electronics, as well as social media platforms.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Youth Governor is a documentary about the YMCA's Youth & Government (YNG) organization, a model legislature program in which students run for various state offices. Directors Matthew and Jaron Halmy, both YNG alums, follow the race for the 72nd California Youth Governor, focusing on the three finalists for the position. While there's nothing overtly problematic for younger audiences here, the references to the uglier side of campaigning -- including the sexism and prejudice candidates face, as well as the way social media can win or lose an election -- make this a better pick for middle and high schoolers, especially those who might be interested in participating in YNG themselves. The featured teens show how people and groups with different or opposing viewpoints and priorities can still work together and respect one another -- although it's the people, not the policies, that are important in this documentary. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This film is an interesting, educational look at how students learn the political process through a long-respected organization that teaches teens about running a campaign -- and a state. As one of the adult mentors (who was himself a former California youth governor) explains, participating in YNG -- particularly at the level of an election candidate -- can transform a life. The directors don't explore all facets of YNG, focusing primarily on the gubernatorial race and election. A clear early frontrunner is Aidan Blain, an athlete from Santa Monica who knows how to work a room. His competition includes Piper Samuels, who's from a more politically moderate group and tries to work with a conservative adviser who doesn't want traditionally liberal candidates to forget about the "vocal minority." There's also Bayo Collins, who's from Long Beach and is excited to make his family proud by running for the top job.
Although The Youth Governor doesn't quite offer the pathos or emotional investment of Boys State or Try Harder!, it does shine a light on a venerable organization that provides students with a memorable firsthand experience of how a state's political structure works. The Halmys zero in on some of the more unseemly aspects of the election cycle, like when Piper discovers that antisemitic and misogynistic comments are being made about her (with even uglier plans being made in the event of her victory). Without spoiling the documentary, it's refreshing to see who's willing to help her take down the bigoted bullies. Piper is also open about how being a girl affects how she's perceived and limits her behavior. Meanwhile, Bayo's social media issues reveal how easily the voting public can turn away from an otherwise charismatic candidate. All it takes is one well-timed leak, and poll numbers will suffer. The documentary doesn't judge any of the candidates for how they campaign or what potentially false promises they make. There are no villains or heroes in this film; either of the final two candidates is a viable governor. Perhaps that's why, in the end, the announcement of the winner is slightly anticlimactic: Audiences aren't pushed to root for an obvious favorite. You'll be proud of them all.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.