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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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
Of course the title deals with debating but it goes far deeper than that. Forest Whitaker, playing a true academician in every sense of the word, has both a precocious and gifted 14 year old son played by the brilliant Denzel Whitaker,no relation, and that son is none other than James Farmer Jr.,whom 7 years later becomes the founder of C.O.R.E., the Congress on Racial Equality. Thus began the beginning of the end of segregation as well as the vicious Jim Crow laws of the South which made it as difficult for a Negro to live and thrive there as it did for the Jew in pre-war Third Reich Germany. Yet, the film was basically not political in theme.
It deals with a small black college in Texas,Wiley,that had a poet plus a political agitator played by Denzel Washington as many students' mentor. Denzel, knowing that if given the chance, a few gifted students could form a debating team to challenge any college team in the nation and he sets out to prove it. Keep in mind that the main theme of the Civil Rights Movement was "if given the chance" and so the film builds on it and does the kind of damage to opponents as did the great "Brown Bomber," Joe Louis.
Although a bit slow moving and at times, pretentious, the film was very skillfully done in bringing to light the efforts accomplished by the African Americans to do away with the perniciousness having pervaded this nation from the time the first slave ship landed on our shores. Without delving into the ultra-political, nevertheless we are made to see for ourselves how prophetic became the words "We can overcome".
Who wrote, "And the youth shall guide them?" Truer words never written. Those Wiley College kids, without anything but minds for weapons, caused a revolution from the mid '30s to the present--kids who put real meaning into the Emancipation Proclamation.
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