A drama based on 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.
Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garber into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime.
Marshall, Texas, described by James Farmer, Jr. as "the last city to surrender after the Civil War," is home to Wiley College, where, in 1935-36, inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and his clandestine work as a union organizer, Professor Melvin Tolson coaches the debate team to a nearly-undefeated season that sees the first debate between U.S. students from white and Negro colleges and ends with an invitation to face Harvard University's national champions. The team of four, which includes a female student and a very young James Farmer, is tested in a crucible heated by Jim Crow, sexism, a lynch mob, an arrest and near riot, a love affair, jealousy, and a national radio audience. Written by
The diploma hanging in Dr. James Farmer's study is an authentic copy provided to the art department by Boston University archivist Kara Jackman. See more »
In the final debate against Harvard, James Farmer Jr. goes to the hot seat and clicks a ballpoint pen closed. The movie is set in 1935; the ballpoint pen was patented in 1938. See more »
[after James protests his inability to debate with Samantha or Henry]
James, you're the best researcher I've ever seen. We couldn't do this without you.
James Farmer Jr.:
Oh, there's PLENTY you do without me!
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THE GREAT DEBATERS is a movie-going treat, with young people exemplifying truth, respect, pride and dignity. In an entertaining way, with some preaching, this movie shows four African-American debaters succeeding in the face of adversity, growing stronger with success AND defeat. Their debates are lively and thought provoking.
However, before, during and after these contests, other serious and complicated issues are revealed. Two of these issues deal with a confrontation on the road between two farmers and a minister, and a lynching in the middle of the night. Both are reflections of the time, unsettling and disturbing to those in the movie and in the audience.
This is not family entertainment, nor is it mindless entertainment. It has no gratuitous sex, but there is a hint of romance. It is fast paced, but the action is verbal not physical. THE GREAT DEBATERS lives up to its name in that it has something for everyone, and not everyone will like it. I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a quality film that will be debated by all who see it!
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