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Speech & Debate is a 2017 teen dramedy film directed by Dan Harris, and based on the play of the same name by Stephen Karam. It stars Liam James, Sarah Steele, and Austin P. McKenzie as Solomon, Diwata and Howie, three teenagers fed up with the school board (which their parents are members of) succumbing to pressure to censor the school musical, preventing the school newspaper from reporting on real issues, and refusing to allow the creation of a Gay Straight Alliance. In order to express their frustrations, the three decide to start a speech and debate club.

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The film was released in select theaters, iTunes and on-demand on April 7, 2017. As of July 2017, it is streaming on Netflix. You can view the trailer here.


Speech & Debate contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the original play, Solomon is a closeted gay boy whose parents sent him to an ex-gay corrective camp over the holidays. Like Howie, Solomon also got involved with Mr. Healy, and because of this is relentless on exposing him so he can't prey on other teenage boys. In the movie, Solomon likes girls, has nothing to do with Mr. Healy beyond being aware of his tryst with Howie, and the plot about the kids exposing Mr. Healy is edited out entirely.
  • Adults Are Useless: Subverted. Principal Bellingham is pretty useless, quickly caving to pressure to censor the School Play, and refusing to let Howie start a GSA with the flimsy excuse of it turning into a "social hour," but he's also understandably angry at Diwata, Solomon and Howie for representing the school so poorly at a regional competition, with a fake faculty sponsor, and then expecting to be reimbursed for their personal expenses. It's also understandable that Diwata and Solomon's parents would be angry about them running off to Portland overnight, and Diwata's mother especially is a sympathetic character, a single mother just trying to make ends meet. Howie's mother isn't involved in the plot as much, but she takes a spot on the school board shortly after they've moved to Salem, and she's supportive of Howie trying to start a GSA.
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  • Aerith and Bob: Solomon and Howie are slightly unusual names, but Diwata takes the cake. Meanwhile, some of the adult characters are Marie, Joan, James and Susan.
  • Black Comedy: The play especially.
  • Blackmail: Diwata forces Howie to join the speech and debate club since she knows about his involvement with Mr. Healy, and they need at least three members to form a team.
  • Bowdlerise: In-universe, the school board agrees to make Lady Larken from Once Upon a Mattress not pregnant in the school play so as not to glorify unwed mothers.
  • The Cameo: Darren Criss appears as himself in a promotional video for speech and debate, and Lin-Manuel Miranda appears as a genie in an '80s video explaining the various speech and debate events.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Diwata performs a song from Hamilton in her audition, but doesn't recognize Lin-Manuel Miranda as The Genie.
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  • Covered in Mud: Solomon starts playing in mud while high, and ends up dragging Howie into the puddle with him when Howie tries to get him out.
  • Demoted to Extra: The central conflict of the play is Mr. Healy, the drama teacher, preying on male students, but his role is heavily downplayed in the movie.
  • Didn't Think This Through: At the speech and debate competition the main characters are horribly underprepared, to the point that Solomon doesn't know the basic format of his event, and Diwata is disqualified for breaking a key rule. There's also the fact that they don't have a real faculty sponsor, and Diwata's "plan" for paying for the trip is running up her mom's credit card and then hoping the school will reimburse her. This results in the club being disbanded and the three receiving two weeks of detention.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Diwata. Subverted in that she doesn't seem that embarrassed by it.
  • Failed Audition Plot: Diwata doesn't get a lead role in the school play, so she agrees to join speech and debate so she can do dramatic interpretation.
  • Fanservice: The main characters dance to "Freedom" by George Michael in nude bodysuits, for some reason.
  • Foreshadowing: Diwata mentions early on that she and Lady Larken have a lot in common. Subverted, as Diwata isn't actually pregnant.
  • Forged Message: Diwata texts Solomon's mom with his phone so that she knows he's okay, but his mother instantly realizes the message isn't actually from Solomon since Diwata included tons of emojis.
  • Funny Background Event: While Solomon and Diwata are trying to convince people to join speech and debate, the last one to leave is a girl in a motorized wheelchair, who makes about a twelve-point turn to get her chair turned around and leave the room.
  • Funny Foreigner: Oksana, the vaguely Eastern-European cafeteria lady.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted in the play. Diwata has one.
  • Hopeless Auditionees: Diwata isn't a terrible singer, but her audition for Once Upon a Mattress features an original composition, a song in a completely different style from the musical she's auditioning for, an unnecessary dance routine, and an over the top costume and props, all of which are big no-nos.
  • Instant Humiliation: Just Add YouTube!: See Instant Web Hit below.
  • Instant Web Hit: Played for Drama with the video of Solomon making a terrible speech about how short people are actually dumber, although it's unclear if it went viral outside of their town. Also the video of Gary Crenshaw berating the school board. Averted with the video of Solomon, Diwata and Howie's performance at the end, only 84 people watched it.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Solomon gets high after Howie slips him some ecstasy that a bartender gave him.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Solomon, who wants to write about the mayor's sex scandal and the censorship of the school board, but is stuck writing mundane human interest pieces for the school paper.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to the play.
  • Mic Drop: Diwata does this after singing part of "My Shot" from Hamilton.
  • Moral Guardians: Gary Crenshaw, and the school board to a lesser extent.
  • Motor Mouth: The boy Howie is paired up with in the debate. Howie gives up and walks off without even trying to debate him, since his argument was so incomprehensible. Truth in Television for many debate contestants trying to squeeze as many points as they can into a short amount of time, although in a case as extreme as that the judges probably would have asked him to slow down.
  • Never Trust a Title: You might assume the movie revolves around a speech and debate team, but not so. The titular organization never really gets off the ground, and the main characters are forced to abandon it after they go behind their principal's back to go to a competition, and end up embarrassing themselves. The movie is more focused on typical teen issues of sexuality, relationships with one's parents, and trying to fit in at school.
  • Nude-Colored Clothes: Diwata, Howie and Solomon wear nude bodysuits for their dance to "Freedom."
  • One Drink Will Kill the Baby: Howie figures out Diwata might be pregnant when she turns down a sip of wine. Subverted, as he already saw her outside a family planning clinic, and Diwata isn't actually pregnant.
  • Pædo Hunt: A major plot point in the play is Mr. Healy's preying on male students, which is removed from the film. Howie specifically mentions that he is 18.
  • Parents as People: Solomon's parents are possibly getting a divorce, while Diwata's mother is struggling financially.
  • Pregnancy Scare: Diwata has one in the movie. In the play, Diwata is actually pregnant and has an abortion.
  • Race Lift: Diwata is an eighth-Filipino and is portrayed by Sarah Steele, who is white. Steele also originated the character in the play's first run.
  • Remake Cameo: Gideon Glick, who originated the role of Howie off-Broadway, makes a cameo in the 1980s genie video that Solomon, Diwata and Howie watch after forming their speech and debate club.
  • School Play: Once Upon a Mattress, although the actual play isn't shown and isn't the main focus of the plot.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Diwata has a YouTube channel that she hands out business cards for, but she doesn't seem to have many viewers other than one Internet Troll and Howie, and she doesn't get lead roles in the school plays.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Downplayed compared to the play. Howie goes one one date with Mr. Healy, but then calls things off and blocks Mr. Healy from messaging him. Howie also lies that he's not a student, and there's no indication in the movie that Mr. Healy is hooking up with other students.
  • Their First Time: Diwata discusses hers. It was on her mom's bed, she was wearing an old sweatshirt, and the guy was drunk and refused to talk to her afterwards.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer shows both cameos mentioned above, probably on purpose to try to draw in fans of both actors.
  • Training Montage: Diwata, Solomon and Howie preparing for the speech and debate competition.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Lampshaded, Diwata is female and an eighth-Filipino. However, she passes as white.
  • What Were You Thinking?: Diwata's mother's response to her "borrowing" her credit card.
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