Speech & Debate

Speech & Debate is a 2017 American film directed by Dan Harris. The film is an adaptation of the play of the same name and was released on April 7, 2017, by Vertical Entertainment.

Speech & Debate
Speech & Debate poster.jpg
Directed byDan Harris
Written byStephen Karam
Based onSpeech & Debate
by Stephen Karam
CinematographyDavid Hennings
Edited byRobert Hoffman
Music byDeborah Lurie
Distributed byVertical Entertainment
Release date
  • April 7, 2017 (2017-04-07)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States


The film features three misfit students in a high school in Salem, Oregon, Solomon, Diwata and Howie, who are frustrated with the hypocrisy they see in their parents and school staff. Together, they try to revive a school debate club to face the situation they are in.

The first thing they have in common is they each have a parent on the school board. Solomon's frustration is the limitations he and the rest of the school newspaper have, They must do the stories assigned to them, which concerns him because he plans to study journalism at college but he needs some authentic proof of his ability.

Diwata is an aspiring actress, and she practises producing music with lyrics on her social media page. She also tries out for the upcoming school musical, Once Upon A Mattress. The play's content is heavily altered, essentially censored. In her audition she purposely uses some of the parts edited out, resulting in her being cast in a inferior role.

Howie is gay, new to the school, lonely, and tries to form a GSA (gay student alliance) club, but is blocked by the predominantly male conservative school board. He also has a casual meet-up with the drama teacher, awkward when they bump into each other at school.

Solomon proposes an article idea to the school newspaper's advisor entitled 'Ignorance and Prejudice Drive School Board Decisions', which is rejected by his yearbook advisor, who gives him a link to the website `Find Your Voice' arguing for joining a debate team. Sharing this with Diwata, she gets motivated and they try to recruit others to join, but not one student showing up to their after school pitch signs up. As they only need three to form a team, Diwata convinces Howie this is a way to meet other gay men.

Diwata takes charge, getting a cafeteria worker to sign on as advisor, and paying with her mother's credit card. At the debate, each fail in their own way, mostly due to unfamiliarity with the rules and structure of debating, as there was no actual advisor to guide them. Dejected, they go out to a gay bar. Diwata's car is towed, so they try to catch, but miss, the last bus home. They use the credit card for a room, where their parents find them a few hours later.

They are all given detention, not reimbursed for expenses, and Diwata must get a job to pay back her mother. Inspired by a local 'character' who says life is a stage, she reunites the three 'misfits' to go in front of the school board. They use their '3 minutes' to speak out against censorship, with a theatrical enactment equating their Salem, Oregon to the 17th century Salem, MA during the infamous Salem Witch Trials (Diwata acted in The Crucible).

Although the press is turned away from the meeting, later they pick up the story, exposing the suppression, thanks to someone recording the event on their phone. Solomon appears on a local TV news station broadcast, and in the end all three are happier. Both Solomon and Diwata get the exposure for their futures which they need, and Howie gets more contacts.



Principal photography started on August 8, 2015 in Jackson, Mississippi, United States.[1]

Karam said that "he specifically aimed to create characters who 'push through their pain'".[2]

The song "Losers Are Winners", which was written by Karam, is played over the credits performed by Kristin Chenoweth.

Release and receptionEdit

The film was released on April 7, 2017, by Vertical Entertainment.[3]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 55% based on 11 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10.[4] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 46 out of 100, based on 5 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[5]


  1. ^ Jeremy Gerard (9 July 2015). "Liam James & Sarah Steele Topline 'Speech & Debate' For Sycamore Pictures; Dan Harris Directing". deadline.com. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  2. ^ Smith, Matt. "When Stephen Karam Couldn't Get Cast, He Found 'Speech & Debate'" Playbill, February 4, 2017
  3. ^ "Speech and Debate". The Numbers. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
  4. ^ "Speech & Debate (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 5, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ "Speech & Debate Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved May 5, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

External linksEdit