A trio of trailblazers in Black and Gold

This year in the annual True/False Film Festival, three University of Missouri students appear as subjects in the much-anticipated documentary “Girls State.”

Anna Chellis, Faith Glasgow and Brooke Taylor, all political science majors at the University of Missouri, are subjects in "Girls State," which will show at the True/False Film Festival this weekend.

Feb. 28, 2024
Contact: Courtney Perrett, 573-882-6217, cperrett@missouri.edu

Fresh off a premiere at Sundance Film Festival, University of Missouri freshmen Anna Chellis, Faith Glasgow and Brooke Taylor are ready to share their big-screen debut with Columbia at True/False Film Festival this weekend.

The students, all political science majors in the Truman School of Government and Public Affairs, are subjects in “Girls State,” the documentary sibling to the hit 2020 film “Boys State.” Both get their titles from American Legion events that feature an annual week-long camp dedicated to high school politics and government.

While the “Boys State” documentary followed a boys camp in Texas, “Girls State” focuses on a group of 17-year-old girls and the establishment of a mock state government during the 2022 event at Lindenwood University in St. Louis. Set up in 1935 by the American Legion, the Girls St­­ate program allows for teenagers to learn about democracy and civil discourse through self-governance.  

For Chellis, Glasgow and Taylor, being featured in the festival’s Show Me title, a festival honor that celebrates the possibilities created by the shared experiences of film, was an experience they described as life changing. As part of the film’s debut, the trio have traveled the country, including recently attending the “Girls State” premiere at Sundance Film Festival.  They said they’re looking forward to welcoming the film home to the state of its inception, which is possible thanks to funding support from the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy.

Directed by “Boys State” filmmakers Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, “Girls State” follows seven girls questing to form a government while navigating politics and power.

Lessons from the front lines

While “Boys State” zeroed in on masculinity in America and the tipping point of political success, “Girls State” balances the act of politicking with concern about the issues of the moment.

“The program was a great way to get young people thinking about politics, how they can be involved and how other people think,” said Taylor, a Sikeston, Missouri, native who served as chief justice of the Supreme Court in Girls State. “Because oftentimes when you're in high school, no matter where you are, there are a lot of like-minded people, so you’re not getting to hear from people who think differently from you.”

The documentary highlights the strength and determination of young women as they explore the American political system.

“’Girls State’ really solidified my idea for my future career, and where I wanted to place myself in politics,” said Glasgow, a Kansas City, Missouri, native who ran for Federalist governor in Girls State. “I’m interning at the Missouri capitol, and it’s been a lot of fun. I think Girls State removed me from the political environment that I was situated within in Kansas City and introduced me to different perspectives.”

Their experience at the Girls State workshop, all three students agreed, made the act of coming to college at MU that much more exciting and, ultimately, rewarding for the diversity of viewpoints they knew would await them on campus.

“Coming to Mizzou meant embracing perspectives wildly different from my own,” said Chellis, a St. Louis, Missouri, native who served on the Girls State Supreme Court. “But I decided to come here because Mizzou is a great school with a lot of opportunities, and it’s close to the state capitol. I’m proud of everything I’m a part of here.”

But with all the growth encouraged by the program, there were accompanying challenges. For Taylor, the lessons centered around women as leaders. These lessons were reinforced when she watched the film at its premiere at Sundance Film Festival last month.

“As I was reminiscing about my time at Girls State, I remembered thinking about how I would be perceived,” Taylor said. “Watching the screening, I kept coming back to the fact that there’s no one way to be a woman in leadership. Whether it’s through femininity, strength, being social or reserved, there are many ways to be a powerful woman, and I hope that comes through in the film.”

Poised for a homecoming

Gearing up for the screening of “Girls State” at the True/False Film Festival, Chellis is excited for local crowds to view the film.

“We’re all from very different places in Missouri, so I’m curious about how people here receive the film,” Chellis said. “Viewers at Sundance Film Festival told us the film was eye-opening and gave them hope for the future, and that’s something we’re hoping it does for everyone.”

Although “Girls State” was filmed at Lindenwood University during the summer of 2022, Glasgow, Taylor and Chellis believe the main message of the film applies now as much as it ever has.

“In essence, the documentary prompts critical reflection,” Taylor said. “We all have opinions, but we know that they are based on our different upbringings and the things we’ve experienced throughout our lives that influence our political views. What’s important is that we never stop talking to one another about them.”

Editor's note: From Apple Original Films, “Girls State” streams on Apple TV+ April 5, 2024.

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