In her absorbing new documentary, Kim A. Snyder, (“Newtown”) chronicles a new generation of youth leaders.
Remember the adage “kids are meant to be seen, not heard”? Recent events suggest that’s no longer the case with child activists like Greta Thunberg and Jamie Margolin stirring the pot on issues from climate change to gay rights to misogyny. But few are making a more resonant statement than the survivors of 2018’s massacre at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The proof is prominently on display in Kim A. Snyder’s “US Kids,” an absorbing documentary in which she tags along as the likes of Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg and Sam Fuentes valiantly refuse to accept “hearts and prayers” as an answer to an epidemic not at all unlike COVID-19 — guns.
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We watch in awe as the trio, along with a half-dozen of their less-famous Douglas High classmates, stare TV minicams in the face while venting their rage against “do-nothing” Republican politicians and an exploitative media that demands on-camera tears, not intelligent dialogue about a national disgrace claiming an average of 33,000 Americans per year. Yes, we’ve heard it all before. Too many times, if you ask me. But what Snyder — in her follow-up to the even more wrenching “Newtown” — coaxes from the Parkland kids isn’t so much their newfound activism, but the deeply submerged grief and sorrow they refuse to let rise to the surface.
It finally reveals itself near the end of a 2018 national bus tour promoting reasonable gun-control laws. The cumulative emotional toll universally strips away the powerful facades to expose vulnerable children traumatized not just by the horrid memory of watching their friends and teachers being mowed down in a senseless act by a deranged individual with an AR-15, but also by Second Amendment nuts, Fox News personalities (Laura Ingraham) and clueless journalists and politicians. All of whom are oblivious to the fact they are targeting these children much the same way Nikolas Cruz targeted them on Feb. 14, 2018, Valentine’s Day.
Where’s the love and compassion in that? Then it hits you like the packed bus taking these once fun-loving teenagers on a hot, sweaty mission bent on excising as many NRA-backed members of Congress as possible. The reason they’re doing it isn’t so much activism, but more a mechanism for coping with a tragedy they see as not only senseless, but easily preventable if lobby groups like the NRA had any sense of decency and respect for human life. The busier they are, the less they think about the shooting that forever changed their lives.
But once the monotony and fatigue set in, the guards drop, the tears flow and the fact that many of their friends and teachers are never coming back hits them upside the head like a sledgehammer. It’s hard not to cry along with them, as the empathy heightens and anger stirs. Anger at the NRA, anger at politicians worried more about re-election than doing their jobs, and anger at yourself for not taking a more active role in protecting children living in fear their school might be next.
It rips your heart out. But it’s also highly inspiring, as we watch a bunch of teenagers evolve into fully-formed adults right before our eyes. They are innocents tempered by tragedy and enlivened by anger. There’s not a greater calling. And seeing the fruits of their labor bear out in the surprising results of the 2018 midterm elections — with gun-control supporters widely stomping Second Amendment candidates — is so uplifting you’d be inhuman not to shed a tear.
All of this because a handful of kids decided to follow in the footsteps of Howard Beale by going to their windows and shouting “We’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” Those words aren’t just a great line from an even greater movie; they form a phrase that scares the hell out of every hack politician from Bangor to San Diego. And after seeing the Parkland kids exercise their First Amendment rights in protesting an antiquated Second Amendment all you want to do is stand up, cheer and call out, “Let the children speak.”