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Hot Docs 2022: Girl Gang

Directed by: Susanne Regina Meures
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Taylor Baker

75/100

“Because likes show approval.”

Andreas Balys, Leonie’s Dad

“Girl Gang” offers an embedded look at the performative nature of social media influencers and the nefarious invasion of corporations using minors to co-opt teenagers into purchasing products. The system of isolation and exploitation are underlined by the score and the interspersed facts in white text on a black background with information like “48% of surveyed teens feel closer to their social media idol than their real friends”. Over the course of 4 years starting with the principal subject at 14 years old Susanne Regina Meures captures the life of the Balys family and their rise to prominence in the influencer sphere.

At the center of the documentary is Leonie known online as LeooBalys, a 14-year-old girl who with her mother and father is trying to get more followers, more sponsors, and more money. One of the aforementioned facts states that “95% of all brands prefer their social media campaigns not look like advertising”. From exploitation of underaged labor to ad campaigns targeting minors with campaigns that are meant to feel personal and cultural, the charged topic of child grooming in the modern era at a corporate level has never rarely been glimpsed more indisputably.

Keyed along with our journey of Leonie is her number one fan. A young girl named Melanie expresses deep sadness and loneliness over not being in a crowd at a mall to see Leonie. She runs the Fan Page for LeooBalys and has her own mini-arc of coming to terms with the reality of her relationship with her idol and accepting herself in small asides throughout the runtime.

Ultimately “Girl Gang” is a stark self-aware look at the corporate ad manipulation culture that is prevailing in the social media walled gardens of Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. The loneliness that these black mirrors are bringing out in the next generation, and the corporate minds exploiting it for profit, often with the help and support of parents is a fascinating topic. When does your child become a product and an asset? What if you’re coming from such meager circumstances that the life they can achieve is better than any other you could help them achieve or offer to them? “Girl Gang” is one of the more engaging looks at the consequences of social media exploitation of minors, and joins a surge of equal minded narrative and documentary entries exploring these outcomes and lifestyles, but “Girl Gang” may be one of the most effective entries in the subgenre yet.

“Girl Gang” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of Hot Docs.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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