Review by Sean Boelman
Although the Girl Scouts remain the predominant organization for young women in America, there have been plenty of groups offering alternative options to families. Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s documentary We Are the Radical Monarchs tells the story of one such group in a very moving way.
The film follows the founders of the Radical Monarchs, a youth organization for young women of color formed in Oakland, as they set out to educate their community and expand their reach. One of the most interesting things about this movie is the way in which it explores the contrast between the skills that the Girl Scouts impart to its members and those which the Radical Monarchs hope to teach.
Too often, the youth of today are placed in a position where they are unable to face the challenges of modern society. The eponymous group argues that, while the traditional values emphasized by the Girl Scouts have their place and may have been useful at one time, there are more pressing issues that girls and women of color have to face today.
The film does a very good job of telling the story of the group’s founders. These mothers are doing some extraordinary work for the sake of their children, knowing that the world will become a better place in return. Sadly, the efforts of great parents like these often go unrecognized, so it is nice to see a movie like this fill that gap.
That said, the film doesn’t satisfy the audience’s desire to know more about the Radical Monarchs themselves. Admittedly, with children as young as this, it can be hard to get their attention for long enough to do a thorough interview. However, since they are the ones who are most affected by this story, it would have been nice to see more from their perspective.
Perhaps the single best moment in the movie shows an interview being conducted by some of the parents and their children to determine who should be the next Radical Monarchs troop leader. With this short but powerful sequence, the audience will learn more about what the organization stands for than in any other portion.
Knowlton brings a certain energy and vitality to the film, which works extremely well given the vibrant personalities of the subjects. More so than most recent attempts at doing so, Knowlton effectively captures what is important to these kids while still tackling some of the touchier and more controversial issues that the organization addresses.
We Are the Radical Monarchs is an interesting documentary that brings light to a wonderful cause. Although it does lose its focus in a few portions, the subjects are so compelling that their story speaks for itself.
We Are the Radical Monarchs airs on PBS on July 20 at 10:30pm.