By Lisa Petrillo

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Actor and director John Leguizamo recently released a film titled “Critical Thinking.” It is based on a true story from 1998, where five teenagers from one of the toughest Miami neighborhoods fight their way into the National Chess Championship under the guidance of their unconventional, but inspirational teacher Mario Martinez known as ‘Mr. T.’

The film was shot in Overtown in just 20 days back in 2018 on a small budget of $3 million. Leguizamo directs and stars in it as Miami Jackson High school teacher ‘Mr. T.’

CBS4’s Lisa Petrillo sat down with Leguizamo to discuss the release of this film.

“I just love the story because I can relate to these nerd kids who don’t feel like they fit in anywhere, there’s no place for them, they don’t want to be fighters and don’t want to be gangsters. They didn’t want to play football. They were just nerds,  bookworms and this teacher created this beautiful safe space for them to feel safe and then built into these champs. So, I love that story,” said Leguizamo.

This homegrown film project has been in the works for more than 20 years.

Miami movie producer Carla Berkowitz, Miami’s own Emilio Estefan, and local businessman Harvey Chaplin were the film’s executive producers.

The real Mario Martinez says his goal was to give these boys an avenue to succeed.

“And if they could succeed in a game like this, that’s highly intellectual analytical, they could succeed in life just as well. And chess teaches you to learn how to make decisions to think ahead and that’s what life is all about making good choices,” said Martinez.

Leguizamo says that all the kids need is support to be who they need to be.

“The sad and beautiful thing is that there is a lot of these super-gifted genius kids in our communities that are not getting the love and nurturing that they deserve and they know what the magic bullet is, it’s just money. We have great teachers in America. We have the skills. We just need to be clean, need supplies and we need money.”

The story behind it is extremely heartfelt and Leguziamo explains.

“In these dark times, we need inspiring movies like this to show the incredible ability of people to help each other to be there for each other to respect each other… and I think you’re gonna love this movie.”

‘Critical Thinking’ is now in theaters, but can also be seen in most movie watching platforms on TV.

Watch the trailer here. 

Lisa Petrillo