It may be understandably difficult to watch a film like Us Kids, as it not only recounts some of the most horrific mass school shootings of recent memory but unblinkingly confronts just how prevalent guns are in our country and the undeniable havoc they wreak on our lives every single day. But ignoring the issues won’t make them go away, and so what documentarian Kim A. Snyder manages to make of this sad subject is something quite inspiring and hopeful, even as the young people featured navigate their own uncertain futures after the most defining event of their lives: surviving the 2018 mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Snyder chronicles the lives of several of the surviving students during the summer of activism that followed the tragic event, each of them inspired to speak up for change to gun safety laws after their direct experience. Many of them became household names in the weeks after the February shooting, including Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and others, each of them appearing regularly in the media as they organized the March 24, 2018, March for Our Lives, a demonstration in Washington, DC, that ultimately attracted an estimated 800,000 attendees, and a national bus tour to bring their message for gun control to students across the country. The students tell their own stories throughout, Snyder capturing events as they happen and interspersing interviews with each of them as they reflect on that busy and often overwhelming year.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of what these young activists do is inspiring, their work literally changing the face of the country’s politics as they engage more young voters than ever in the 2018 mid-term elections and see the results of their efforts realized in politicians aligned with their cause elected to Congress. But just behind that sheen of good, meaningful work is a lingering sadness as one both realizes the reason they’ve been called to this activism in the first place (tragic) and recognizes the ultimate injustice in the fact that we are counting on these children, these barely formed, shouldn’t have anything more to worry about than what to wear to Prom kids, to save us all. Both carry an immense weight as the film unfolds, an eerie sense of collective guilt that we, as a society, have put these kids in this situation in the first place.
The most captivating moments of the film are those far from the headlines and soundbites that cable news networks replayed ad nauseam in 2018. For example, Snyder captures Hogg and Kasky engaging with MAGA hat-wearing, gun-toting counter-protestors outside their events, and the poise and courage with which these young men face these adversaries is nothing short of exceptional. They are calm and articulate; they genuinely listen and respond in kind to the concerns raised. In one exchange, one of the counter-protesters even tells Hogg he’s nothing like what the media makes him out to be (for just a split second, Hogg’s expression is a teenager’s “duh” face before he remembers himself). It would be slow-going, indeed, but each of these moments makes a strong case for making change through one-on-one conversations and personal connections.
Towards the end of the film, Kasky says in one of his to-camera interviews, “I wouldn’t say the future looks bright, or dark, I would just say it’s there. And it’s up to us to decide what we do with it.” And above all, this is what Us Kids reminds us, that though they are just kids now (or young 20-somethings today), these are, God-willing, the future leaders and change-makers we are all counting on to right the wrongs and fix what’s broken in a country where guns remain a massive threat to public safety.
Us Kids is now streaming in virtual cinemas, including with Music Box Theatre.
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