Parents' Guide to

Critical Thinking

By Jordan Elizabeth, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Underdog chess team defies odds but plays into stereotypes.

Movie NR 2020 117 minutes
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This drama is the classic story of an underdog team overcoming the odds and making it all the way; unfortunately, it falls back on stereotypical characterizations to tell its tale. The Miami Jackson team seems to be in this position because its members -- Black and Latinx teens from under-resourced communities -- have historically underestimated identities. The film plays on the biases that are often held about these identities by depicting the teens as shiftless and unfocused. They're careless in their fundraising efforts, they try to pass notes during tournaments, and they use the threat of physical violence to intimidate their opponents.

Their chess skills are an afterthought, making their success feel like an anomaly. And it certainly doesn't help that a White teen joins the team as they gain momentum and becomes their shining star -- teaching the other kids new chess moves and giving them vocabulary lessons. He's the only teen character whose background, personal life, and stressors aren't explored. So while Critical Thinking is diverse in its casting and exposes some of the broken systems in public education, it misses the mark in humanizing its characters. The failure to see these kids' humanity contributes to their stereotyping, on-screen and off.

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