Sundance 2017: 'Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower' Doc is Invigorating
by Alex Billington
January 29, 2017
The power of people. But who is the leader that can inspire people to actually get out and protest? Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower is a documentary about the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014, as well as the story of Joshua Wong, the young activist who lead the movement. I've been excited to see a documentary about this specific moment in Hong Kong's history, and this film covers that event and much more. This really shook up something deep inside of me. Joshua Wong is now my idol, I'm totally inspired and invigorated by him and his endless passion for democracy through peaceful protest - power in numbers. I admire this kid so much, and this doc is a fantastic introduction to who he is and what he helped achieve.
Directed by Joe Piscatella, Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower tells the story of Joshua Wong - a student who founded a group called Scholarism and began protesting against the National Education curriculum in Hong Kong at the age of 14. After successfully convincing the government of Hong Kong to give up on their plan, he regrouped two years later to help lead the Umbrella Movement. Wong and other activists lead a 79-day protest on the streets of Hong Kong, fighting for democracy and universal suffrage - the ability to vote for and choose the Chief Executive without interference from the Chinese Communist Party. While the protest was not successful, it became a seminal moment in Hong Kong's history, and helped cement Wong's legacy.
The film successfully introduces us to Joshua, and his cohorts at Scholarism, as well as covers (in minimal detail) the concept behind the Umbrella Movement. Joshua is a born leader, calmly yet passionately fighting for freedom and equality and democracy. It's invigorating to watch him - he won't give up, he knows what to say, he knows how to rally people to fight for change. The subtitle for the film is accurate - it's the story of a teenager battling a superpower: the Hong Kong government, backed (or perhaps controlled) by the Chinese government. The doc moves fast, explaining quickly the context behind why Hong Kong is fighting for its independence from mainland China, and how activists like Joshua are much different than Chinese citizens.
After learning about his very successful protest against the National Education curriculum, which brought out 100,000 people, it jumps to 2014 and follows Joshua specifically as he helps organize the next series of protests. This is the point where I got really emotional during the film, totally in awe of what he was pulling off and the footage they had of the thousands of people camping out on the highways. They were all there because they were fighting for true democracy, and were emboldened by charismatic leaders like Joshua. While I wish the film would've spent a bit more time explaining the cultural context of the Umbrella Movement (and its greater relevance to Hong Kong politics), and how it became as iconic as it did, I was so enamored by Joshua that I didn't mind that they kept the focus on him more than the protests themselves.
Until another major documentary is made about the Umbrella Movement and/or the life of Joshua Wong, this is the definitive documentary on both. I really loved this film and felt deeply connected to it, inspired by his activism and his intelligence. I am also extremely motivated by his ability to galvanize and organize, and I hope other people are influenced by him. He is the definition of a leader, and we need more leaders like him. Director Joe Piscatella works hard to answer some of the big questions about who exactly this kid is by choosing excellent footage to show, and covering important moments in his life. What he shows us allows us to learn a lot about him if you watch carefully. It's an inspiring story of a teen making history in Hong Kong.
Alex's Sundance 2017 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing