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The Great Debaters (2007)

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.

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(screenplay), (story) | 2 more credits »
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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 11 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Henry Lowe
...
Samantha Booke (as Jurnee Smollett)
...
James Farmer Jr.
...
Hamilton Burgess
...
Dr. James Farmer Sr.
...
Ruth Tolson
...
Sheriff Dozier
...
Pearl Farmer
...
Helen Farmer (as Devyn Tyler)
Trenton McClain Boyd ...
Nathaniel Farmer
...
Deputy
...
Pig Owner
...
Pig Farmer
...
Dunbar Reed
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Storyline

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 <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

When the nation was in need, he inspired them to give us hope.


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for depiction of strong thematic material including violence and disturbing images, and for language and brief sexuality | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

25 December 2007 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Debate Pela Liberdade  »

Filming Locations:

 »

Box Office

Budget:

$15,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$3,604,000 (USA) (21 December 2007)

Gross:

$30,226,144 (USA) (11 April 2008)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

| |

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film features both Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, as well as a young actor named Denzel Whitaker, who is not related to either, but plays the son of the latter's character. See more »

Goofs

When Samantha is participating in her first debate at Oklahoma City, she mentions World War I in her argument. In 1935, this war would have been referred to as the "Great War", since a World War II had not yet occurred. See more »

Quotes

Dr. James Farmer, Sr.: [after Tolson is unjustly captured and imprisoned] Since you have no evidence, I suggest you let him go.
Sheriff Dozier: Are you threatening me, boy?
Dr. James Farmer, Sr.: No, sir. I wouldn't do that. But I cannot speak for those people outside.
[points toward the riotous mob gathered outside the sheriff's office]
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Notes on Craft: Structure (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

How Long Before I Can Change My Clothes?
Performed by Alvin Youngblood Hart (as Alvin 'Youngblood' Hart)
Produced by G. Marq Roswell
Traditional
Arranged by Alvin Youngblood Hart (as Alvin 'Youngblood' Hart)
See more »

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User Reviews

 
You do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do.
26 December 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This wasn't about my Texas, although I am familiar with many of the topics in this film. I have been to Marshall in my travels over most of the highways in Texas, I know about Paul Quinn College and Prairie View A & M University. This wasn't even about my Daddy's Texas, as he was just a small boy at the time. It was, however, my Grandfather's Texas. he typified the characters in this film.

With Denzel Washington directing and acting, I expected an outstanding film. I was not prepared to be so emotionally taken in that I left the theater wiping tears from eyes. This was a powerful statement about the differences in American. Differences that were typified by Franklin Roosevelt's affirmative action program for whites - the New Deal; differences that would be repeated twenty years later after WWII when the whites again received affirmative action in the form of the GI Bill. Robert Eisele's story really brought home the pain and deprivation of being Black in America, and how some could overcome that deprivation with the right help, but could never overcome the pain.

Besides Washington, there were outstanding performances by Forest Whitaker, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett, and Denzel Whitaker, as a 14-year-old in college.

Tears in my eyes, I will long remember this film as one of the best of the year and of many years.


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