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Posts Tagged ‘the great debaters’

The Great Debaters Movie Posters

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Release date: Tuesday December 25, 2007
Genre: Drama
Running time: 123 min.
Director: Denzel Washington
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Producer(s): Denzel Washington, Joe Roth, Kate Forte, Oprah Winfrey, Todd Black
Screenplay: Robert Eisele, Suzan-Lori Parks
Cast: Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Kimberly Elise
Official site:
Rating: PG-13 for depiction of strong thematic material including violence and disturbing images, and for language and brief sexuality

Washington stars and also directs the the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas. In 1935, he inspired students to form the school’s first debate team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.

Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and inspired by a true story, “The Great Debaters” chronicles the journey of a brilliant but volatile coach (Denzel Washington) who uses the power of words to shape a group of underdog students from a small, modest black college in East Texas into an elite debate team while challenging the social mores of the time, culminating with a groundbreaking invitation to debate Harvard’s championship team.

The Great Debaters Movie Posters

The Great Debaters Movie Review

Thursday, December 27th, 2007


Starring Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker and Denzel Whitaker (no relation to either), The Great Debaters serves as a pleasant reminder that even in the land of formulaic, mainstream Hollywood, studio films occasionally get served up without the usual dollops of melodrama and cliche.

This is especially unusual in the triumph-over-adversity genre — and even more unusual when the setting is 1930s Texas, the predominant tone is sepia and the producer is Oprah Winfrey.

And yet, perhaps because of the sheer talent involved, this effort comes across as smart and genuine.

Washington, who makes his directorial debut here, stars as Melvin B. Tolson, a real-life poet and professor who became a renowned civil rights leader and led the debate team of Wiley College, an all-black school in the South. The members consisted of Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett), James Farmer Jr. (Denzel Whitaker) and Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams).

After beating the teams at all the other black colleges, they were invited to compete against a white team at the University of South Carolina — in the film it’s changed to Harvard — with this match providing the ultimate battle of wit and rhetoric.

In the opening sequence, we see James’s father, the minister James Farmer Sr. (Whitaker senior) telling his congregation that they must do what they have to do, in order to do what they want to do. It’s a running theme, with the characters having to make crucial decisions every step of the way about whether they should react to something or let it slide, whether they should fight with their fists or with their words, and often it’s an unfortunate catch-22.

As well, as the first woman ever chosen for Wiley’s debate team, Samantha in particular must confront almost twice the prejudice, while also dealing with the romantic advances, then betrayals, of Henry. Then James, too, finds himself enamoured with her, which complicates things further, though not as far as Tolson’s secret involvement with the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.

Click on the link below to read the entire review:

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