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The All-Americans

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The All-Americans Movie Poster Image
Lovely documentary digs into football dreams in East L.A.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 97 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Strong messages of perseverance and teamwork conveyed in the way teams and communities pull together for common goals. There's a more subtle message about the pitfalls of competition, too: Though players and coaches care deeply about winning games, it's clear that their community is an underdog in the competition for resources in America. But as one player says, "Winning can't give you pride, and losing can't take it away. It's something within yourself." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Players and coaches work extremely hard to accomplish their goals; they spend long hours on the playing field and at school, practicing and doing schoolwork. Families are present and close; many scenes of family members hugging, eating together, talking, and laughing together, with multiple generations living together. Most of the people featured in the film are of Latinx descent, and some are undocumented immigrants. Excerpts from conservative talk shows talking about immigration provide context to scenes of families worrying that they'll be deported or can't fully participate in American life without documentation. 

Violence

One player's little brother cries because he's afraid a family member will get deported; it's said that an older woman is "very sick, and here, she'll get treated." Players clash on the football field; at one point, a player injures his arm and can't finish the game. A father talks about the death of his son, who was born with a heart defect. Players fight in a locker room, shoving each other and cursing. 

Sex

Talk about girlfriends and boyfriends; a few scenes in which couples hold hands and snuggle. One player has a young daughter; the girl's mother talks wistfully about wishing she were in school instead of caring for the baby. Cheerleaders are shown in brief outfits; the camera lingers on their rear ends as they dance. 

Language

Language is infrequent, but expect to hear "f--k," "f--king," "bulls--t," "motherf--king," and "dammit." One teen tells another to "shut the f--k up." Conservative talk shows talk sneeringly about "illegals" and call immigrants "barbarians." A girl worries that she's thought of as a "f--king beaner." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens attend a party at which they drink from red Solo cups and play quarters on a table with beer bottles scattered on it; no one acts drunk. One player works at a convenience store stocking beer. 

What parents need to know

Families need to know that The All-Americans is a sincere documentary about football players and coaches at two East Los Angeles high schools -- and the big game they play in each year. Most of the people featured in the film are of Latinx descent, and some are undocumented immigrants. They discuss immigration, immigrants, and deportation; conservative talk show hosts are heard referring to people as "Illegals" and "barbarians." Violence is mostly confined to the playing field, where players are sometimes injured; viewers also hear that a little boy cries in terror of deportation and that his grandmother is sick and won't be treated for her illness if she's deported. In one scene, players fight in the locker room, shoving each other and cursing. Language is infrequent but includes "f--k," "f--king," "bulls--t," "motherf--king," and "dammit"; an undocumented girl says she worries people think of her as a "f--king beaner." Girlfriends and boyfriends hold hands and cuddle. One couple has a young daughter, and her parents drop out of school to care for her. Teens at a party play quarters and drink from Solo cups. Players and coaches show extensive perseverance and teamwork in preparing for games; they also make -- and absorb -- powerful lessons about pride and competition. 

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What's the story?

THE ALL-AMERICANS centers on East Los Angeles, where two high school football teams have a fierce rivalry that culminates each year in a game known as The Classic. In the months leading up to the game, we meet the school's coaches and many of their players. We see the endless work that goes into preparing for the game, and then follow the subjects home to get a look at the rest of their lives. A portrait emerges of a sport that gives its participants brief glory but doesn't erase the hurdles they face as poor Latinx people living during an anti-immigration era in American politics. 

Is it any good?

This immersive documentary shows the fragile status that sports grants to struggling students at rival East L.A. high schools -- and the important place their big game holds in the community. The students at Garfield and Roosevelt High Schools face long odds. Their families are poor, their neighborhoods crime-ridden; parents tend to be away working long hours, and there's very little money left over to pay for luxuries like college. The students themselves work after school -- we tag along with one who works at night restocking beer in a convenience store's refrigerator, while another works a full shift at a bakery to pay for his toddler daughter's needs. Some families are undocumented and live in terror of deportation, a fear that the filmmakers underline with excerpts of dialogue culled from conservative talk shows that talk about "illegals" and the need to "build a wall." 

But on the field, players and coaches alike find glory. Cheerleaders scream for them, their classmates applaud, parents show up in school colors to cheer them on. And winning matters. "There's a lot on my shoulders," admits Roosevelt head coach Javier Cid. "We have to win for the whole community. I can either be a great coach if we win, or some might consider me the worst coach in America if we lose." As we watch the players going to class, finishing their homework, doing pushups and drills on the field -- working, working, always working -- viewers may begin to wonder whether the deck is too stacked against them for it all to matter. And yet players and coaches alike find satisfaction and glory in the effort. Assistant coach Alfredo Robledo works for hours to mark and line his players' subpar gridiron like a real NFL field; sometimes he says he's there working on it until the predawn hours. It takes a lot out of him. But when the players see the field looking so professional, it makes a difference. By paying respect to monumental and sincere effort, this documentary does, too.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The All-Americans shows instead of telling. How does it illustrate what its participants are up against? Do scenes of people relaxing and having meals at home show that the filmmakers were accepted by their subjects? What's being conveyed by scenes like this -- or by scenes showing players working hard?

  • How do players and coaches demonstrate perseverance and teamwork in The All-Americans? Why are those important character strengths?

  • How are issues of race and class intertwined, especially in urban America? What insight into those issues does this movie provide? Do the snippets from conservative talk shows discussing immigration and immigrants give context to certain aspects of the film subjects' lives? 

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