Is it distinctly American to take traumatized survivors of horrific events and thrust them into the spotlight? In an age during which political activists inhabit a specific layer of internet celebrity, Us Kids asks (but doesn’t answer) what the psychological of fame born from tragedy might be.

Springing out of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, shooting, the March for Our Lives event in the same year became emblematic of our depravity. Seeing kids cut down in their prime was horrific—but the moment survivors stepped beyond mourning and into politicking, the American audience stripped their youths in exchange for expectations and impossible standards.

Filmmaker Kim A. Snyder’s documentary constantly reminds us that, yes, Emma González, David Hogg and their classmates were children when first thrust into the limelight. With a particular focus on the more outspoken students-turned-activists, we follow their post-shooting summer vacation as they embark on an activist tour of America’s more conservative enclaves. Armed gunmen threaten to storm their homes, wannabe cowboys lurk in hotel hallways brandishing pistols and, in turn, the media brands the young activists as heroes. Reality, however, presents survivors grappling with deep mental anguish, PTSD, depressive disorders and suicidal ideation.

Us Kids is a standard political documentary with flashy media clips, tweet overlays and inspirational music—but it focuses on its subjects’ pathos rather than pretending at objectivity, as if we’re only here to confirm suspicions we already had. Like most progressive documentaries on subjects that emerged during the MAGA era, melancholy hangs over optimism and inspirational tales, but I’m not entirely convinced by the broader claims of the effect March for Our Lives had on youth voter turnout. Call it cynicism, but this isn’t a data documentary, and it’s a pity Us Kids lacked the confidence to stay grounded in its behind-the-curtain aspects. How can we know the long-term implications of the march and the Parkland students’ seeds of activism in just three-plus years?

If anything, Snyder’s work reminds us that many Americans are dependent on activists to do our dirty work. Collectively, we can check in and ask ourselves how exploitative we’re being to survivors and why we demand that survivors pick up the mantle instead of allies and accomplices.

7

+ Ceaselessly engaging

- Unoriginal in presentation

Us Kids

Directed by Snyder

VoD, NR, 98mins