At a time when the demands for equality and protection for people of color around the country are landing like a silent scream to the administration currently in charge, any message of hope and positivity is welcome. This is especially true while so many kids are trapped at home during a pandemic, regardless of means or educational access. Enter the narrative feature Critical Thinking, starring and directed by John Leguizamo. It is an inspiring retelling of the true-life story of chess coach Mr. T. Martinez (Leguizamo), who brought his “Critical Thinking” class, which used chess to expand critical thinking, but also as a way to develop self esteem and bring empowering to at-risk kids in underserved communities in his school district. Combining his passion for teaching with the brains and determination of the kids in his class led them to the National Chess Championship.
When discussing his commitment to making Critical Thinking, Leguizamo has spoken about growing up feeling like an outsider, seeing movies and reading books where there was no one who looked like him. Latinx representation in pop culture was nearly always negative or stereotypical. He also remembered the misinformation the controversial (and racist) book The Bell Curve spread about the intellectual inferiority of black and brown folks, and the damage it caused, both inside and outside communities of color. With all that as his experience, it’s no wonder he was drawn to this story, which is just one great example of the dedication and intellectual prowess present in even the most underprivileged environments. Tools and support are all that’s needed for them to excel.
Executive Producer Carla Berkowitz spent 20 years getting the film to the screen, and at every turn you can tell it is a labor of love. Beyond Leguizamo’s sharp-as-a-tack acting skills, the cast of performers, all of whom represent players in the real story, are sympathetic and compelling to watch. With Leguizamo at the helm, the actors got lots of practice with chess games, creating a sort of real chess team with the help of their real-life counterparts as coaches.
For the complete review go to AWFJ.org HERE.