“TikTok, Boom.” Shines Light on the Digital Native

By Stephanie Ornelas 

In a world where social media has become fundamental to the way billions of people communicate and share content, director Shalini Kantayya is calling out the latest craze that’s captivating a new generation: TikTok. 

In her documentary, TikTok, BOOM., Kantayya talks about the app’s powerful algorithm and how it’s creating a space for young digital creators to have a voice. But she also brings light to the security issues, global political challenges, and racial biases behind the platform, exploring the impact these problems have on creators of all ages.

Centering a cast of Gen Z subjects, like influencer Feroza Aziz and beatboxer Spencer X, the documentary explores the modern racial obstacles Indigenous people and people of color face in the digital world when it comes to algorithm and censorship. It invites the creators to have a candid conversation about their own experiences and how the app ultimately changed their lives forever.

During the post-screening Q&A the creators candidly — and almost chillingly — discuss the many layers to TikTok’s algorithm and how it knows each user on a very deep level, leading to an intense addiction to the app.

The documentary feels urgent in that it touches on a very timely subject. And since TikTok has really seen exponential growth in just the last two years or so, the film is a wonderful exploration and analysis that allows those unfamiliar with the platform to get a better grasp of its surgency as well as its risks.

“Tiktok is a cultural phenomenon,” says director Shalini Kantayya. “I found myself quite addicted because it has an incredible algorithm. I didn’t realize the extent to which TikTok had eclipsed every other form of social media in terms of downloads. I was fascinated and that ultimately led me on a journey to make the film.”

Kantayya was very selective about the content creators she chose to work with during this project. And she admits that a huge challenge was balancing the anecdotal, academic analysis aspect of the film and the telling of compelling stories from digital natives. 

“[The film] was grounded in these incredible character narratives that dovetail with politics and the larger themes so perfectly. I think that the anchor of the film is the characters and how they changed this app as a result,” she adds. 

“I wanted different levels of TikTok fame — people who have had influence and impact in different ways. Each of these influencers have a story that illuminated larger things.” 

Influencer Feroza Aziz still hasn’t really come to terms with her rising TikTok fame. “It’s just so strange seeing how my life changed from this app,” she adds. 

The documentary truly acts as a portrait of what it’s like to grow up on the internet and navigate it today as a digital native.

“We’re now in a time where the internet is coming together for social justice,” says Spencer X. “Two years ago no one took the app seriously. I don’t know what phase is next, but I do know it’s on the forefront of exploration, and it’s going to have to do with unifying age groups, races and cultures together for a better future.”