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Review: A fierce young sisterhood rises up in ‘We Are the Radical Monarchs’

Graduation day for Troop 1 of the Radical Monarchs from the documentary "We Are the Radical Monarchs."
Graduation day for Troop 1 of the Radical Monarchs, with, from top left, Alicia Garza, Marilyn Hollinquest and Isa Noyola; and Anayvette Martinez at top right; from the documentary “We Are the Radical Monarchs.”
(Katie Flint)

In 2014, Oakland community organizer Anayvette Martinez invited her friend Marilyn Hollinquest to help her launch a more inclusive alternative to Girl Scouts for her young daughter. The service group they founded does wear berets and vests, and the girls do earn merit badges, but they are more likely to speak on your behalf before the city council than sell you cookies.

As their mission statement proudly proclaims, “The Radical Monarchs create opportunities for young girls of color to form fierce sisterhood, celebrate their identities and contribute radically to their communities.”

Directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, the uplifting documentary “We Are the Radical Monarchs” tells the story of how on-the-ground grassroots organizing can strengthen those communities while creating a nurturing environment for girls of color in the upper elementary grades and beyond.

Martinez and Hollinquest, who met while earning masters degrees in ethnic studies at San Francisco State, form a dynamic duo forged in their shared birth dates, queer identities and a desire to offer their young charges a space in which diversity is at the center of the narrative. That they do so with the drive and savvy of a start-up while holding down full-time day jobs is just one of the many compelling threads of this timely film.

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Goldstein Knowlton presents a vibrant view of the Oakland community, using radio news soundbites for context to track the organization’s growth from the age of Obama and the shadow of Ferguson to the foreboding specter of Donald Trump (the film ends in 2018 and includes a postscript). To see the girls embrace subjects such as Radical Beauty and Radical Pride that speak to who they are and where they live and meet inspiration Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, is to feel a surge of optimism.

Overcoming growing pains — in this case, the demand for more troops around the country and in Canada far outstripping the two founders’ time and resources — and obstacles such as an attack from Fox News only strengthen the Radical Monarchs’ resolve. And face it, if you’re making Sean Hannity uncomfortable, you must be doing something right.

Most impressive are the girls themselves. Over three years, the girls grow from curious pre-tweens to experienced social justice activists. If movements are judged by embodying the change they seek, the first generation of Radical Monarchs is a heartening success.

‘We Are the Radical Monarchs’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: 9 p.m., July 20, PBS SoCal; streaming on pbs.org/pov

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