Us Kids is now showing at Sheffield Doc Fest.
On Valentines Day 2018, a nineteen-year-old man walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, armed with a semi-automatic rifle. There he proceeded to murder seventeen people; fourteen students and three staff. This tragedy marked another grim milestone in the history of mass shootings across America, with over 230 gun-related incidents recorded in schools alone since the horror of Columbine in 1999. The horror of Parkland would again raise questions about the United States’ obsession with guns and the lack of adequate gun control laws. But Parkland would also unleash the anger of a young generation tired of living in fear as they wrestled the urgent need for change away from the adults and politicians who had continued to fail them.
Kim A. Snyder’s feature documentary Us Kids explores this youth movement, highlighting the drive, determination, and pain of young activists who fought for change following the death of their friends, teachers and classmates. Here we find our young people’s urgent fight for justice clashing with the ridiculous notions of America’s right to bear arms as more and more innocent people lose their lives daily. Snyder focuses on the voices of the Parklands survivors and young activists, never allowing her camera to stray too far from the youth-led campaign for change. In doing so, she also highlights the sheer brutality of the American political system, as each young person finds themselves wrapped in a battle for the very soul of America in a dangerously divided political sphere.
READ MORE: THERAPY DOGS
As their campaigning for gun laws progresses, we see many of the young Parkland young activists become household names in America, including Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Sam Fuentes, Jackie Corin, Bria Smith, Alex King and Cameron Kasky. Here their passion and bravery shine through the false claims and lies of the pro-gun lobby, but the toxicity of American politics and media is never far away. I watched in sheer horror as the pro-gun lobby and its politicians felt the need to threaten seventeen-year-olds – the right-wing tabloid media targeting David Hogg, as they accused him of being insincere, false and a crisis actor. Here the ‘Make America Great Again’ band of bigots were out in force, smearing, lying and threatening anyone who might suggest a background check before buying a gun was a good idea.
READ MORE: BOYS STATE
For all of us in the United Kingdom, the topic of gun control may seem distant; after all, this is a country with strict gun ownership rules where even our police do not carry weapons as standard. Equally, for most UK schools, the idea of metal detectors and security guards on entrances and exits remains unthinkable. However, the themes in Us Kids translate to our own discussions on knife crime, as adults rather than kids steer the Government response, just as politically motivated projects replace our youth services. Is it not time our young people led the response to knife crime? Or were at least politically engaged in challenging our politicians? Here Us Kids raises important global questions about youth involvement in politics and the need to reduce the voting age to ensure active involvement.
Us Kids offers us a ray of hope in the darkness of a broken political system, one that continues to gain strength through a series of new grass-roots political movements in fighting climate change denial, inequality, injustice and abuse within a political system that has become elitist, divisive, and financially driven. Watching Us Kids, I can only hope that the young activist eventually becomes the young leader, and America finally wakes up to the need to control its deadly weapons before yet another horrific public shooting.
Director: Kim A. Snyder