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Q Ball

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Q Ball Movie Poster Image
Moving but mature docu about prison basketball program.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 96 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Movie's main message is that, regardless of how these men went to prison (and whether their sentences were fair or not), they must be treated as human beings and given life skills -- not only job skills, but skills to cope. Shows how basketball program promotes teamwork, positivity, responsibility, as well as sense of family. A player takes a knee during the singing of the national anthem, which could inspire a different kind of discussion.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lt. Sam Robinson of San Quentin prison could be considered a role model. He champions the basketball program and sees reform as the best way to go for prisoners, but he's not on-screen very frequently. Some other main characters are admirable in some ways, but they're also convicted criminals and don't exactly qualify 100% as role models.

Violence

A prison yard fight is shown, with punching, kicking. Spoken stories of strong violence, including murder, domestic abuse. A man describes killing another man, stabbing him five times ("sliced the bottom of his heart off"). Mentions of other murders. Crime scene photo shown.

Sex

Images of exterior of strip club; interviewee says that he worked there as a bouncer. Brief verbal description of a pimp waiting outside a hotel for two women. Mention of "fornicating" in song lyrics.

Language

A use of "f--k," a use of "s--t." Middle-finger gesture. Uses of "oh my God."

Consumerism

Nike shoes and Nike logo on display in several scenes. Nike Jordan logo shown. Soda brands (Sprite, Crush) shown and mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention of a convict's mother being a drug addict. Description of a girlfriend being drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Q Ball is a documentary about the basketball program for convicts at California's San Quentin prison and the positive effects it seems to have on their well-being. Executive-produced by Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors, this is a moving, hopeful movie with a clear message of teamwork, but it does have some mature content. There's a scene of a real prison yard fight (punching and kicking), a graphic description of murder (stabbing), and other references to violence. Likewise, interviewees talk about having a mother who was a drug addict and a drunk girlfriend. Viewers see exterior images of a strip club and hear mentions of working in a strip club and as a pimp. The word "fornicating" is used in a song lyric. "F--k" and "s--t" are heard once each, and there's a middle-finger gesture.

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What's the story?

In Q BALL, several convicts in California's oldest prison, San Quentin, participate in a basketball program. The film focuses mainly on star forward Harry "ATL" Smith, whose impressive skills could lead to a future in the NBA, if he can focus and learn to trust his teammates before he's paroled. Coach Rafael Cuevas, a convicted murderer, does his best to make sure that the team practices discipline and positivity. Older convict Allan "Black" McIntosh, a nonviolent victim of the Three Strikes law, acts as quiet role model. As the team -- called the Warriors -- embarks on its season, they all look forward to the final game against the Golden State Warriors' G League team.

Is it any good?

Splitting its time fairly evenly between on-the-court action and soulful subject interviews, this film effectively and movingly demonstrates the healing power of teamwork and positive thinking. Directed by Michael Tolajian and executive-produced by Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant, Q Ball opens with an accidentally captured fight in the yard; it doesn't shy away from the horrors of violence, but it does so with caution and consideration. In his interview, Cuevas regretfully tells his story of killing Timothy Griffith outside Giants stadium in 2004, but he does it with a full awareness of his emotional state, what led to his actions, and knowledge of how not to tread that path again. Conversely, Griffith's mother states in her interview that Cuevas should never be forgiven. It's two sides of a bitter, complex coin, and Tolajian wisely shows them both.

But Smith is the main focus here; he's 31, his parole isn't far away, and his talent makes him the best hope to be "the first convicted felon to suit up in an NBA jersey." Regardless of whether that happens, Smith, whose fight with a drunken girlfriend led to a domestic abuse charge, is still a strong presence; he's even shown leading a church gathering and bringing the congregation to tears. If this documentary has a flaw, it's that the basketball sequences are edited as a series of random, nifty plays, instead of building the suspenseful narrative of an actual game. Otherwise, Q Ball is tremendously moving -- and tremendously hopeful.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Q Ball's violent moments. Does the fact that it's real make it feel different from fictional movies? How does hearing verbal descriptions of violence differ from seeing it?

  • Does the basketball program seem to be a positive thing overall? What's good about it? What could be improved?

  • How does the movie show the value of teamwork?

  • What does it mean when one of the players "takes a knee" during the singing of the national anthem?

Movie details

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