The racial and gender politics of this film subscribe to the typical characterizations found in most mainstream teen films. For instance, despite the fact that all three testimonials are offered by girls, this film is focused on the rebellious-ring-leader white boy, Holden, who leads a group of “diverse” young adults in their struggles. His girlfriend, Charlotte, the passionate-political white girl fights well on her own, but often steps aside or supports Holden’s efforts. The rest of the group consists of the fat-pervert white boy, the outrageously-gay white boy, the blond-cheerleader white girl, the goody-two-shoes Asian girl, and the militant black-girl-with-attitude. Each of these characters plays into their stereotypical roles in ways that are supposed to be funny, but mostly just expose the ignorance, if not racism and sexism, of the filmmakers. For instance, in a totally superfluous scene the cheerleader wears a skimpy outfit and seduces the captain of the football team to help with their plan. In another scene, Emily, tries to avoid police questioning by first claiming she “no speak-a English” and then offering a “spring roll.” When neither approach works, she offers “a licky licky.”
What’s worse than the racial and gender stereotypes that this film relies upon for its humor is the ways in which the film skews the stories of teens who have been the victims of school authorities. For instance, the only gay character is not a girl, but a boy who is gay because of his love of musical theatre and his flamboyant personality. Further, the girl in the film who gets
suspended for wearing condoms on her shirt is a cute, skinny, blond girl (opposite of the young woman who gives the testimonial at the end of the film) who makes this statement because she is the founder of the school’s celibacy society. The “real” girl’s similar statement was made because her mother had HIV before she died and she wanted to help protect her classmates from a similar fate. In both of these cases, the “real-life” stories are white-washed and made more palatable to a mainstream U.S. audience.
Perhaps the filmmakers assumed that these representations would be over-shadowed by the representation of the favorite teacher who inspires and pushes the students—a black man who used to make documentaries and now teaches high school. He is juxtaposed by the blond, white principal who acts as tyrannical dictator (Ann Coulter style). Mr. Drucker is a strong,
admirable character; however, in an outtake available on the DVD, he acts like a stereotypical (black) man as he stares at, and comments about, the principal’s back side as she walks past him.
There are some powerful aspects of this film, like the exposure of the growing fascism of school administrations (and the U.S. government more generally) and the power of “kids” to fight the power when they work together. However, these “kids” fail to fight for a specific cause. Instead, they only fight against the election of Principal Weller to the position of State School Superintendent. This film is steeped in liberalism as the students don’t fight for a vision for a better school or better society, but
against the local dictator. Further, they are successful in blocking Principal Weller’s election, but more importantly, their actions lead to college admissions for all of these middle-to-upper-class “kids.” Ultimately, Kids in America says more about adults’ limited visions than it does about possibilities for the future.