If there’s any upside to the turmoil and tragedy that the United States — and the world — has been experiencing in recent years, it’s the fact that it’s shaping and motivating a powerful surge of youth activism. While it’s certainly not fair for society to look to teenagers to solve problems caused by generations of adults, there’s no denying the passion, drive, and ingenuity of change-makers like Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, and the Parkland shooting survivors. Filmmaker Kim A. Snyder introduces us to several of the latter in her moving documentary Us Kids.
On Valentine’s Day 2018, a former student used a semi-automatic rifle to wreak chaos at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, ultimately killing 17 teenagers and injuring 17 more. The survivors — including Emma Gonzales, David Hogg, Sam Fuentes, and Cameron Kasky — quickly found themselves in the media spotlight, and they used that attention to hold the U.S. government accountable and call for stricter gun control laws. Less than six weeks later, they led supporters in March for Our Lives protests in Washington, D.C., and around the world, successfully executing one of the largest youth-led actions since the Vietnam War.
Snyder follows the Parkland teens as they grapple with everything from survivors’ guilt to death threats from right-wing gun lovers. They confront legislators, cross the country on buses, speak to enormous crowds, and work tirelessly to encourage people — especially young people — to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, helping fuel the “blue wave” that crashed on the capitol that November. Most of them are pushed far outside of their comfort zone (Fuentes, in particular, is a reluctant figurehead), but, driven by the memory of their friends and classmates who died in the massacre, they know they can’t stop.
As an adult, it’s humbling to watch these kids acknowledge their fear, anger, uncertainty, and sadness and mobilize their feelings to such powerful effect. For teens, it will be flat-out inspiring to see people their age making a direct, measurable difference. And whatever your age, Us Kids is an urgent reminder that there is so much important work to be done in this world, and it’s up to every one of us to get out there and do it. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Nikki Baughan: Kim A Snyder’s powerful, insightful documentary follows a group of teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida, as they turn to activism after a gunman shot and killed many of their friends and classmates in February 2018. Following these inspiring youngsters as they organise marches, appear in the media and take their fight to the heart of Washington DC, the film vibrates with the youngsters’ passion and determination. Yet, crucially, it also highlights the toll that such trauma – several of the kids cope with depression, all speak of lingering psychological damage – takes on these young lives, and the scale of the social and responsibility placed on their shoulders thanks to the appalling behaviour of successive governments who have failed to protect them. For real and lasting change to even be possible, posits the film, we must never forget the thousands of lives lost to gun violence, and never stop holding those responsible to public account.
Pam Grady: Survivors of the 2018 mass shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School could have retreated from the world in their shock and grief. Instead, they took action to try to prevent the tragedy that befell their community from happening again, leading a youth movement in favor of gun control and against the National Rifle Association and the politicians in the organization’s pockets. This stirring documentary follows a group of these teen activists and allies who have endured similar violence. On one level, the film is an engrossing record of an “and the children shall lead us” moment in American history as youth steps into the spotlight (with plenty of bullying adult detractors) to argue passionately for a safer, saner future. But Us Kids is also an intimate portrait of trauma as the survivors grapple with the losses they suffered, the horror of what they witnessed, and how, in a matter of a few shattering moments, their lives and their futures were forever altered. The film itself is a piece of activism – a call to action, but one that acknowledges that the fight for effective gun laws is not simply political but one forged out of real pain.
Leslie Combemale Us Kids, from documentarian Kim Snyder, follows the teens that survived Parkland, as well as several other young people with personal trauma from gun violence. These kids work to change policies, reduce the political power of the NRA, and build public support for gun control. It is especially riveting to watch them as they relate just how damaged they were after their experiences, and how the attempt to confront or deal with their own PTSD is a daily struggle. The audience is also witness to the harassment and personal risk that is a part of their lives as activists. The film is both inspiring and heartbreaking, knowing these people are part of what I call “the club nobody wants to join”, that of having close personal loss at a young age. Day after day, they claw their way out of a well of sadness that they aren’t sure even has a bottom. Still, they are determined to make change, and the film shows just how successful they can be. Seeing those moments will give viewers hope.
MaryAnn Johanson Kim A. Snyder has gotten to the heart — the broken heart — of gun violence in America with this impassioned portrait of the young people at the center of one of the most important civil rights movements in recent decades. The students of the Parkland, Florida, high-school shooting saw their childhoods end in violence, then willingly gave up more in their campaign to prevent the same happening to more kids. Snyder quietly asks us whether their trauma and their pain is a price worth paying for an unregulated gun culture. Whose freedom is more important?
Loren King I was moved while watching director Kim A. Snyder’s Us Kids — to tears, to rage, to action. To deep admiration and to hope. Us Kids is a compelling story of several ordinary but remarkable young people who refuse to be victims and of their incessant efforts to reclaim democracy. Read full review.
Kathia Woods The Parkland Shootings was one of the most horrific events in American history, and with that, a bunch of kids were trust into the spotlight. Us Kids examines how that tragedy affects the survivors as well as their pursuant fame. Young people were the victims, and young people decided to speak up for other young people. They targeted the NRA. While lunacy occupies the current news cycle called the election, make no mistake that this issue is still very much a worry in every parent’s mind. The two best known activists out of the group were Emma Gonzales and David Hogg. This film shows the importance of young people advocating for themselves. It also showes how this generation, despite criticism that it lacks ambition, is quite the contrary. They used their arsenal of weaponry, specifically social media, to organize. The best outcome of the Road to Change bus tour is that it galvanized young people to vote. Here was the issue many young people across the county could unite on; that’s the power of Us Kids.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Director Kim Snyder’s documentary follows a core group of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who not only survived their school shooting but also founded an international political youth movement in favor of sensible gun laws. The movie is a poignant reminder of how much the group of Parkland, Florida teens accomplished after the unthinkable events of Feb. 14, 2018. Many audiences will be familiar with Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky, and Samantha Fuentes, and the film also highlights young Black activists like Bria Smith from Milwaukee and Alex King from Chicago, both of whom witnessed gun violence in their communities. The timing of the film’s release is also a powerful call to action for young people to vote.
Jennifer Merin Kim Snyder’s very compelling documentary about the Parkland students who survived the 2018 massacre in their school and, in the name of their slain friends, founded a national youth movement to keep guns out of schools and prevent further slaughter. The kids, the subject, the film are remarkable and remarkably inspiring — and especially timely. Kudos to Snyder and the youngsters who are in the film for their activism and advocacy, known to the world through this must see documentary.
Liz Whittemore The Parkland students who survived their school massacre had activism thrust upon them. Kim A. Snyder’s new doc Us Kids follows the intense reality that these teenagers are still living. It’s an emotional gut-punch from every angle. It’s devastating, inspiring, hopeless, in your face, and unapologetic. Us Kids is about the freedom to live. It’s about letting kids be kids. They deserve it. The youth vote could actually change the world. This IS what democracy looks like. Read full review.
Susan Wloszczyna: Filmmaker Kim Snyder allows us to experience the conflicting emotions and traumas as these teens who survived the Parkland school shootings take matters into their own hands, both by protesting in the streets but also by having each other’s backs. When matters get personal, Us Kids is at its best. As these young people turn a tragedy into an opportunity to better the world, it is also clear these kids are not just alright but also right. Read full review.
Nell Minow: “My grieving process was to do something.” That explains how a group of teenagers who survived a murderous attack became the leaders of a nationwide political movement on gun safety. Their dedication, poise, courage, patience, and compassion is deeply moving in this intimate documentary that follows them from protests to press events, and meetings with other survivors, politicians, and those protesting their efforts.
Cate Marquis Us Kids spotlights a group of four survivors of the Parkland high school shooting, as they speak out on behalf of their slain friends against gun violence in schools, and spark the largest youth movement in U.S. history. In director Kim Snyder’s inspiring, timely documentary, we follow these impressively organized teens as they crisscross the country during the 2018 mid-term elections, leading protests filled with other teens, many of whom who also had been impacted by gun violence, while at the same time, struggling with their own trauma. In this hopeful documentary about the power of the young and of grassroots action, the “kids” are never deterred, despite sometimes being confronted by armed adults, as they use their voices to speak out, helping change public opinion about the political influence of the NRA in particular.
Title: Us Kids
Directors: Kim Snyder
Release Date: October 30, 2020
Running Time: 98 minutes
Screenwriter: Documentary – Kim Snyder
Distribution Company: Alamo Drafthouse
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Sharronda Williams, Susan Wloszczyna, Kathia Woods
Edited by Jennifer Merin