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(The 2019 SXSW Film Festival ran March 8-17 in the fantastic city of Austin, TX. Lead critic Chris Reed was on the ground in Austin and has his usual massive slate of reviews and interviews. Stay tuned! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

A feature-length version of director Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s marvelous 2017 short documentary, Radical Brownies (published by The Guardian), We Are the Radical Monarchs follows California Bay Area residents Marilyn Hollinquest and Anayvette Martinez as they found, manage and expand a Brownie-like troop, the “Radical Monarchs,” for young girls of color, empowering their charges to think about social justice and changing the world. Though maligned by the likes of Sean Hannity and other right-wing blowhards, Hollinquest and Martinez never deviate from their mission, “to create opportunities for young girls of color to form fierce sisterhood, celebrate their identities and contribute radically to their communities.” Amen to that.

With success comes greater challenges, however, and as the group gathers more attention, most of it extremely positive, it struggles to raise the funds needed to create and lead more troops. All the while – since the story runs from 2015 to 2018 – the evolving backdrop of our country’s deteriorating political system reveals the immediate need for such organizations to provide these doubly marginalized kids – both girls and people of color – with a safe space in which to learn and grow. Their lessons are not only about race, ethnicity, gender and culture, but also about sexuality, exposing them to tolerant ideas about the LGBTQ+ community, as well. Watching these bright, motivated children blossom and learn how to be kind and compassionate – but also fierce! – citizens of the world is a beautiful thing.

Knowlton tells the story through a combination of observational footage and talking-head interviews, with the girls as well as with their parents and troop leaders. Indeed, the young Monarchs are always front and center, their piercing intelligence in sharp relief at all times. From diminutive (but vocal!) Amia, to Martinez’s own daughter Lupita, to Quetzalli, Chula and De’yani (one of the few African-American girls in the first troop), these young activists of today should make us quite optimistic about tomorrow, the current rise of white supremacy notwithstanding. May the future be as radical as they choose to make it.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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