A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Brooklyn Castle is a documentary that follows the chess team of a public New York middle school, a largely lower-income squad who've devoted themselves to studying the game and have racked up a string of national titles. It's an uplifting tale with the strongly positive message that hard work will be rewarded. There's no smoking, drinking, or sex -- just chess and more chess (and very infrequent swearing, a la "bulls--t," from kids who are sometimes frustrated by the results of a tough match).
What's the story?
BROOKLYN CASTLE is an uplifting documentary that follows the lauded chess team of New York's Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, a largely lower-income, mostly minority group that overcomes every barrier and vaults every hurdle to become national champions. These kids are talented beyond belief at this notoriously difficult game, and their accomplishments are even more impressive when you realize that they all come from very modest circumstances, including many whose parents immigrated to the United States. Through sheer hard work and determination, the kids achieve greatness, and it's satisfying to watch them succeed.
Is it any good?
By bringing the financial crash to this micro level, it's never been clearer exactly how much it cost, and after watching the chess team rack up victories, we see not everything was lost. Brooklyn Castle was filmed over the course of more than one school year, and the 2008 financial crisis looms large over the entire venture. Soon after the crash, the school learns that its budget has been slashed, and they may have to cancel some after-school programs -- including the chess team. Watching Ms. Vicary, the chess teacher, and Mr. Galvin, the coach/assistant principal, try to decide which tournaments the team must skip is heartbreaking.
That's why it's so satisfying to watch the team arrange a letter-writing campaign to school officials demanding their funding back and organize fundraisers to cover their tournament travel expenses. It's clear that chess isn't just a game; for these students, it can also open doors. Like Rochelle Ballantyne, who's hoping to become the first African-American female chess master and is also in the running for a full college scholarship. Or Pobo Efekoro, the student body president who spends his afternoons as custodian at the daycare center run by his widowed mom, an immigrant from Africa.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages. What does it say about competition and teamwork? How do you cope with losing even when you try your best? What's the value of working together toward a common goal?
Are you surprised, impressed, amazed (or all of the above) that a bunch of middle-schoolers could achieve such high rankings in chess?
Is this movie only about chess? Or is there more going on here? Why does it spend so much time talking about the 2008 financial crisis? How does that relate to these kids?
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