The film features Chloë Sevigny, Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Harold Hunter, and Rosario Dawson, all of them in their debut performances. The film is centered on a day in the life of a group of sexually active teenagers in New York City and their unrestrained behavior towards sex and substance abuse (alcohol and other drugs) during the era of HIV in the mid-1990s.
Kids created considerable controversy upon its release in 1995, and caused much public debate over its artistic merit, even receiving an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. It was later released without a rating and grossed $20 million at the worldwide box office.
Feminist scholar bell hooks spoke extensively about the film in Cultural Criticism and Transformation. "Kids fascinated me as a film precisely because when you heard about it, it seemed like the perfect embodiment of the kind of postmodern, notions of journeying and dislocation and fragmentation and yet when you go to see it, it has simply such a conservative take on gender, on race, on the politics of HIV." Specifically, hooks accused the film of having an inherent gender bias:
I was so fascinated by how everyone would tell me they loved this film. And I'd say, well can you tell me the name of the lead woman character in the film and her sidekick? They never can say the names of the female characters. But they remember the names of the two white male stars, again, and so in a sense when we watch Kids, we are actually being asked again and again, by the camera, by the visual politics of this film to identify with those heterosexual misogynistic boys, the two white males who stand at the center of the film, largely because they are the people who speak, who have a voice. The girls speak only in that sort of pretend documentary moment, which was just a slick moment to make us think that there's gender equity in a film that goes on to never let them speak again.