SXSW review: We Are the Radical Monarchs is its own butterfly


We Are the Radical Monarchs is a lovely documentary about girl power starting at a young age that you’ll cheer endlessly over.

The Girl Scouts are often criticized for teaching young girls domestic pursuits like sewing and community service. In 2014, fed up with her daughter being surrounded by people who didn’t look like her, Oakland activist Anayvette Martinez created the Radical Monarchs, a troop wherein little girls of color could learn about the world around them.

We Are the Radical Monarchs puts audiences alongside the troop itself, showing the girls changing and growing as a result of their participation. Martinez and co-founder Marilyn Hollinquest simultaneously seek to open a sister troop and, eventually, run the Radical Monarchs full-time.

Linda Goldstein Knowlton introduces us to the young women who will lead the next generation into the future. The Radical Monarchs are shown as a group of fierce activists in the making with a natural inquisitiveness. Led by Hollinquest and Martinez, the documentary follows Troop 1 as they sit down with a former Black Panther, discuss Black Lives Matter, and protest the election of President Trump.

Rather than being “indoctrinated” as Fox News clips show, We Are the Radical Monarchs shows these middle-schoolers asking genuine questions about progress and history in this country. They share their fears at Trump’s hatred of immigrants. Their minds are open, and they’re more than making their own decisions.

In an era where little girls are told to look and act a certain way, it’s amazing watching them come into their own within the troop. The documentary doesn’t necessarily follow specific girls, but instead sees them as a unit. They all share the spotlight, discuss their hopes and dreams. The true brunt of the story is found with its two leaders.

Martinez and Hollinquest are mentors you hope every girl will encounter throughout their life. Their goals are simple: to grow the troop and make it their full-time job, and yet there’s little funding to do so. They take their roles so seriously that when auditioning new leaders for a second troop, they make sure the girls themselves are included. What they create is a true sisterhood and hope to send their girls out into the world as smart as they were, but braver to boot.

Goldstein Knowlton’s movie is enjoyable and the topic itself is important, but there is an air of the generic to everything. The Radical Monarchs are inspiring, but the whole affair is presented very matter-of-factly. The focus remains on the troop itself with little clear indication of the girls’ lives or even Hollinquest and Martinez’s, giving the documentary a sanitized feel at times.

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The structure of the documentary itself is safe, but We Are the Radical Monarchs’ message is what counts. The future is female, and if we’re fortunate to have one of the Radical Monarchs running things, we’ll be the better for it. While standing in the California State Capital, one of the girls mentions she’ll be running the place. Let’s hope that’s true.