(Written by Allison Brown)
Throughout the festival, I noticed Shalini Kantayya’s TikTok, Boom. was heavily panned by critics. I still wanted to give it a chance, as I tend to enjoy tech related documentaries. The film explores TikTok’s influence on several hand-selected influencers, as well as on the political landscape. TikTok founder Zhang Yiming’s vision to “have a TV station that only shows what [he’s] interested in” is an interesting reason for the app and its algorithm’s existence. I have dipped my toes into TikTok, but I am not a regular user, nor in its prime target market. I wouldn’t say TikTok, Boom. is a favorite by any means, but I definitely did get something out of it, and I don’t regret the watch.
I found the content creators chosen to be a mixed bag. Although some of their subject matter contains worthwhile activism, particularly to shine a light on Chinese Muslim genocide and defend Planned Parenthood, the influencers’ intentions do not seem genuine. They all seem vain, displaying far too many mirror shots of the girls preening themselves, and they are seemingly manipulating their followers by using these causes solely for clout. In this way, the subjects reminded me of Finn Wolfhard’s unlikeable character in When You Finish Saving the World.
Given my own experience with beatboxing, I found Spencer X, who I was previously unaware of, to be the most interesting addition. I am always down for beatboxing, and I found the celebrity cameos from major artists like Ava Max to be a fun addition. However, the crying and emotional struggles of his life once again felt manufactured. I found the most hilarious part of the film to be the snippets of notable TikTok creators sobbing as the Trump ban loomed in the air. I doubt it was meant to be comedic, but these people put way too much value in a shallow app.
When the film veered into a discussion of shadow banning is when it felt most intriguing. I cannot believe TikTok has the gall to try to silence people based on their appearance, weight, sexual orientation, race, or disability to the extent in which it does. It is so overt with its discrimination that it smugly claims is done to protect these users from cyberbullying! I found the language to be shocking and ridiculous, such as specifically calling out those with down syndrome or seniors with too many wrinkles. All in all, Kantayya did a satisfactory job analyzing this cultural phenomenon, but a little more focus would have helped the appropriate one hour and thirty-minute runtime not feel quite as long.
TikTok, Boom. screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.