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 »
The 1935 Wiley College debate team debated USC, not Harvard. In an interview, Denzel Washington said they used artistic license because Harvard has a better reputation. See more »
Melvin B. Tolson:
Denigrate. There's a word for you. From the Latin word "niger", to defame, to blacken. It's always there, isn't it? Even in the dictionary. Even in the speech of a Negro professor. Somehow, "black" is always equated with failure.
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Though I speak with the tongues of angels, but have not love....
"The Great Debaters" is a very fine film.
It reminds us of what it means to be excellent, to stand for something good, to love with all our hearts, and to shine.
The performances, or the cinematography, historical care, or directorship all lift it out of the ordinary.
And in its difficult subject: racial tension and the education and discovery of values by the three young debaters from Wiley College, one of the oldest colleges in America, it creates real excitement and interest.
But the real reason that this is a fine film lies in is its plea that in education lies the reasoning, the power, and the will to change history. That learning lies not just in knowledge but also in applying that knowledge to better yourself, your world, and all of humanity.
The very significant point of the film is at the end. I can forgive the slight drag here and there because the ending is magnificent and explains something crucial about American history by its finish.
From an era when bigotry, racism, and degrading behavior was a wretched norm to our era where values are mutable, where dumbing down has no limits, and taste little place; "The Great Debaters" stands out as being a story that stands against all of these things.
The rating says it all: excellent.
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