One measure of how non-stop the news cycle is these days is the fact that it’s been just over two-and-a-half years since the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and most people have likely either forgotten about the incident completely or had it recede far into their memory banks. The new documentary Us Kids aims to reinforce that, for some of the people directly involved in the shooting, that day has changed the course of their lives irrevocably in many ways.
The title of the film refers to a line Emma Gonzalez delivered in a passionate speech following the shooting on February 14, 2018, in which 17 people at her school were killed and 17 more injured. In the aftermath, Gonzalez and classmates David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, and shooting victim Sam Fuentes became ubiquitous on cable news as they advocated for common sense gun reform and called out legislators who took money from the National Rifle Association.
Not content with just a few days of news coverage, the students quickly organized a group that would create March for Our Lives, an event in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2018 that inspired similar events around the world. And they didn’t stop there: That summer, the group went on a bus tour of the United States, spreading their message far and wide with the help of people who had experienced similar trauma in other parts of the country.
Director Kim A. Snyder, who also explored the aftermath of the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, uses a mixture of news footage, home movies, and actual filming to build a narrative about how quickly the teenagers went from being regular kids to full-blown political activists. While they almost certainly experienced moments of frustration and anger, what’s notable about the group as a whole is how composed and articulate they are shown to be when faced with resistance.
Snyder, who followed the summer tour, details how pro-gun protestors dogged them at nearly every stop, with some of the kids even having death threats against them. And yet none of them were deterred, continuing to put themselves front and center despite any danger that might await them. Even more impressive, Hogg and Kasky are shown going out and directly speaking with the counter-protestors, maintaining a level of civility and poise that few could match, no matter the age.
On the flip side, Snyder also focuses on Fuentes, who was on her own voyage. While she participated in the March for Our Lives, the mental anguish of getting shot and seeing her friends die continued to weigh on her. The post-traumatic stress shows up when she throws up in the middle of two separate speeches, and in her connection to the younger brother of a boy who died next to her. Yet, just like the rest, she pushed through, both for her sake and for the sake of the larger cause.
Of course, the teens are still extremely young, and their youth shows up in their off-the-cuff language (the film is unrated, but should be considered an R thanks to abundant profanity) and general goofiness. And while they show a tremendous amount of composure throughout the film, the strain eventually gets to each of them in different ways.
Most importantly, the work they put in actually had an impact, one that is still being felt today. A record 46 NRA-backed candidates lost in the mid-term elections in 2018, and the group has joined forces with other organizations to spur higher-than-usual youth voter registration and turnout. Older people have been inspired as well, from politicians to celebrities like The Chicks, who shouted out Gonzalez in their 2020 protest anthem “March March.”
While the work for gun control advocates like this group is far from over, Us Kids demonstrates that change can come from anyone, no matter if they are of legal voting age or not. Anyone with even the faintest interest in politics should be motivated by their work, their enthusiasm, and their message.
Us Kids will be available exclusively via Alamo Drafthouse Virtual Cinema on October 30. The film will be free to rent through Election Day, November 3.