On Valentines Day 2018 a 19-year-old ex-student walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Armed with a semi-automatic rifle he proceeded to murder 17 people; 14 students and three staff. The tragedy marking yet another grim milestone in mass shootings across America. Shootings that have surpassed 230 incidents in schools since the horror of Columbine in 1999. The pain, grief, and anger of Parkland once more pulling into question gun control laws across America. While unleashing the anger of a younger generation tired of living in fear. As they wrestled the need for change away from the adults and politicians who continued to fail them. Leading to nationwide protests and campaigns that burned with the energy and passion of youth.
This passion and energy find a further voice in Kim A. Snyder’s feature documentary ‘Us Kids’. Highlighting the drive, determination, and pain of Parkland survivors in fighting for gun control. In a country where gun ownership threads through every level of politics. The right to bear arms clashing with concepts of safety, security, and freedom. While innocent people continue to lose their lives to assault rifles in schools, churches, parks, and streets. Each life yet another statistic in a system dictated by money and power.
Snyder ensures Us Kids focuses on the voices of the Parklands survivors and young activists. Never allowing the camera to stray into the adult world surrounding them, in turn reflecting the importance of youth-led politics. But this drive and determination are also dovetailed with the ruthlessness of a hostile political system. One where young people are seen and not heard, their views deemed unimportant due to their lack of voting rights.
Many of the Parkland young activists became household names in America, as the ‘Never Again’ and ‘March for Our Lives’ movement took hold. Building bridges across America, in examining gun violence and the political empowerment of young people. With the documentary focussing on the key young leaders of the movement; Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Sam Fuentes, Jackie Corin, Bria Smith, Alex King, and Cameron Kasky. Each one shining with a bright light and passion for change. Their voices filled with the urgent need for reform, alongside the relentless frustration of an adult world blind to the needs of their generation.
But this optimism is also shrouded by the toxic landscape of politics and media in the U.S. One where right-wing supporters feel emboldened to threaten seventeen-year-olds. Their ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball caps hiding their own callous disregard for the lives of others. While the right-wing media machine targets David Hogg as being insincere, false and a ‘crisis actor’. Dismissing his voice with a hatred that ignores his age and experience. While the movement he is a part of is accused of being led by left-wing activists. Only further demonstrating the widely held adult belief that teenagers are incapable of holding beliefs or opinions.
For many UK viewers, the topic of gun control may seem distant, after all this is a country with strict gun ownership rules. The majority of our schools thankfully not yet guarded by metal detectors and security personnel. However, the themes present in Us Kids should also ring true in our own knife crime crisis. As adults steer the response with little engagement or conversation with the young people suffering. Our youth services replaced by politically driven projects interested in enforcement rather than participation. Meanwhile, the generational divide is only further enhanced as young people are kept distant from any decisions relating to Brexit.
Us Kids does not attempt to provide sweeping or simplistic answers to gun control or the need for a youth voice in politics. But it does offer a ray of hope in the darkness of a broken political system. One that continues to gain strength through the ‘Extinction Rebellion’, ‘Black Lives Matter’, and ‘Me Too’ movements. A hope that our young people will break the glass ceiling of political involvement, and in turn fix a political system that has become elitist, divisive, and financially driven. The young activist eventually becoming the young leader as one generation replaces the other.
Director: Kim A. Snyder