For the first time in 23 years, a movie about a high school chess team has hit the big screen. Producer Carla Berkowitz read the story of Miami Jackson High School's 1998 national championship in Tropic magazine, and kept in touch with five of its players, Oelmy "Ito" Paniagua, Gil Luna, Rodelay Medina, Sedrick Roundtree and Marcel Martinez. Actor and director John Leguizamo plays a real-life teacher, Mario Martinez, who mentored the players through an elective course and taught them that chess could open doors to careers, scholarships and lifelong friendships.
KOMO News has learned that on April 2, 2015, Paniagua shot at a Pasco SUV driven by his girlfriend's ex and carrying her five children. The shooting left the SUV with bullet damage and a girl was wounded when glass fragmented from the shootout. Police are following up leads and "are looking for the SUV, the occupants and the two pistols used in this incident," according to a Facebook post from the city of Pasco.
The film focuses on the inner-city students' struggle to overcome racism, poverty and drug gangs to rise above their circumstances through their love of chess. Leguizamo's Martinez worked tirelessly to create the Critical Thinking chess course and hand-picked the best players to compete. Corwin C. Tuggles, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Angel Bismark Curiel, Gil Luna and Will Hochman bring the chess players to life on screen, while Boardwalk Empire star Michael K. Williams portrays Ito's alcoholic father and Vida star Ramses Jimenez is the gang leader that seeks to poach one of the team members.