The Sundance documentary TikTok, Boom. examines the app so popular among Gen-Z users that it’s quickly surpassed Facebook, Instagram and YouTube as the most-used social media. Director Shalini Kantayya, a Sundance Institute Documentary Film fellow, downloaded the app and started watching TikToks during the pandemic. It was so “addictive,” she has since deleted it.
“In spring of 2021 during the pandemic I started using TikTok, and it grew very addictive very quickly,” she told MovieMaker following the doc’s premiere at Sundance this week. “I eventually took it off my phone because I felt like it knew me so well. It was such an addictive thing.”
Then, she started reading news headlines about how TikTok had become a political flashpoint, with Donald Trump at one time even considering banning the Chinese-based company in the U.S. Of course, that never ended up happening — but the conversations it sparked around users’ data privacy and censorship stuck with Kantayya.
“I just thought it was bizarre that an app that was best known for teens and preteens dancing was the center of geopolitical controversy and that sort of sparked my interest in making the film,” she said.
TikTok, Boom. introduces audiences to a handful of Gen-Z TikTok stars who have reached viral fame, like beatboxer Spencer X and human rights and political activists Feroza Aziz and Deja Foxx. But Kantayya doesn’t just dive into their fame — she examines the emotional highs and lows that the young stars have experienced since gaining huge followings on the social media app.
“I hope that people will ask questions about the technologies that we interact with every day, and when it comes to social media, ask questions around content moderation and also the mental health impacts, especially on young people,” she said. “I make films because I think that the more literate people are and aware people are, the more people can make decisions that are more human, more sane. Hopefully, what this does is sort of pull the curtain back on a popular technology and invite us all to look further.”
Main Image: Deja Foxx appears in TikTok, Boom. by Shalini Kantayya, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.