Some films are too important not to see. “The Boys Who Said NO!” is one of those films. Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Judith Ehrlich, “The Boys Who Said NO!” is the first documentary to tell the story of nonviolent resistors who openly opposed the military draft during the Vietnam War.
Seven years in the making, this much needed film details the efforts of the men and women of the antiwar movement, the threats of arrest and imprisonment they faced, and how their acts of peaceful protest helped lead to the end of the war and military conscription in the United States.
Profound and long overdue, “The Boys Who Said NO!” will have you asking what would you do if you were faced with fighting a war you didn’t believe in?
As one might expect in a documentary where war is discussed, there are instances of graphic imagery.
Most of these scenes take place in the first 10 minutes of the film, and even though they may be difficult to watch, it is crucial to remember that while these are violent video clips and historical photographs—they were also actual horrors people were living through and making life-changing decisions by at the time. Their inclusion in the film, while may be shocking, is critical to understanding the brutality of the war and why so many opposed it.
There are over 30 interviews with draft resistors, nonviolent activists, and historians featured in the film. The personal stories of the men who refused to enlist are deeply moving and reveal the moral complexity behind their opposition to being inducted.
One of the fascinating themes in “The Boys Who Said NO!” is the influence the civil rights movement had on the resistance.
Dr. Cleveland Sellers, educator and civil rights activist (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), shares tremendous insight into the impact the draft was having on Black communities as a disproportionate amount of Black men were being drafted by all white draft boards to go fight the war. Sellers, himself, also fought against his own induction.
Additionally, the observations on how Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. reacted to the movement, as well as Muhammad Ali’s decision to resist are further eyeopening.
Another face viewers will recognize in the film is renowned folk singer and activist Joan Baez. Her reflections about participating in the nonviolent protests are poignant and her openness to candidly discuss the impact the movement’s aftermath had on her personal life is particularly touching.
“The Boys Who Said NO!” is a film everyone should see. There are many different kinds of courage. Having moral and social courage to stand up for what one believes in is perhaps one of the most courageous things anyone can do. Watch “The Boys Who Said NO!” to educate yourself on an important part of American history and watch it to renew your faith in the belief that your voice also has the power to make a lasting difference.
See “The Boys Who Said NO!” screening during the special Melbourne Documentary Film Festival online now through August 2nd. For more information, visit: mdff.org.au.