Image courtesy of Apple TV+

Contemporary politics and Taylor Swift abound in Apple TV+’s Girls State.

The documentary follows a group of high school girls from various backgrounds in Missouri as they work to simulate American politics through the lens of female empowerment. The week-long immersive program asks a group of hundreds of young female leaders to reconstruct government from the ground up.

Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, the husband and wife team behind Boys State — which won Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Special at the 2021 Emmy Awards — discussed their follow-up film at a virtual roundtable on Thursday.

McBaine said the casting process was integral to the film’s success as they planned their casting selections for Girls State several months ahead of time. She added that they began the process even further in advance than they had for Boys State, given how quickly the program's curriculum ramps up upon starting.

McBaine said she and Moss spoke with hundreds of Girls State participants over Zoom, and that these conversations allowed the directorial duo to learn about the coming-of-age experiences of young women with political aspirations in Missouri.

After narrowing down the documentary’s primary cast to seven participants, McBaine said each of the young women the story follows offered a different perspective.

She said many audience members can see themselves in the main characters in Girls State and that Moss likes to say some of the girls cast themselves in many ways.

“Have you ever met [a teenager] who told you they wanted to run for President?” Moss asks, referring to the film’s lead, Emily Worthmore. “[As a filmmaker,] You’re looking to meet somebody at a transformative moment in their life.”

Moss said he and McBaine think of Worthmore as the main character of Girls State. He emphasized that although she holds great conviction in her beliefs, Worthmore’s openness to learning from those around her allowed her to undergo a transformative journey over the course of the documentary.

McBaine added how both Girls State and Boys State created environments conducive to personal growth for its participants, and that she and Moss felt lucky to have the privilege of witnessing this growth themselves.

“How some of the young leaders in ‘Girls State’ not only handle but also leverage their disappointments provides one of the documentary’s richest lessons,” writes Variety’s Lisa Kennedy of the film.

This sentiment was echoed by Moss, who commended Worthmore and fellow participant Nisha Murali in particular for learning to adapt and demonstrating tremendous growth following political defeats.

“The film is an unexpectedly powerful portrait of deceit and loss,” Moss said. “It’s not about winning. It’s about what you do when you’re knocked down.”