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
In 1935, Marshall, Texas, was major rail center, not a one-track whistle stop. See more »
Dr. James Farmer, Sr.:
[after Tolson is unjustly captured and imprisoned]
Since you have no evidence, I suggest you let him go.
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]
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Sometimes you can enjoy every second of a movie, every frame, and be phenomenally moved by it, and cry a happy tear and yet, when you ponder the film afterward, you feel disappointment, a sense of "why couldn't this film have been braver?" For me, this was that kind of film. There's just no subtlety in it and situations are stock.
Best things: the design of the film, the cinematography, the casting of the primary characters, and, most importantly, the inspirational theme of debating, of speaking well as a way out and up. I hope it inspires young people of all races to clean up their bad speech habits, speak up and be heard. As the Samantha character says at one point, in wonder, "I didn't need weapons, I had words!"
Worst things: predictable plot line, the fact that the speeches themselves, while well delivered, are not always well formulated, and the deliberate decision to end with an unalloyed triumph when the actual situation was less glamorous and more poignant; other postings here have explained why. As someone pointed out, the white characters are demonized (I would say "stereotyped") and not only by cretinous pig farmers in Texas but by the young Harvard debaters whose delicate features and snooty bearing make them seem like Stepford Scions. Oh, well black characters in films have often been stock but one must ask, if that was wrong then why is this right now?
Oprah is a soft-hearted person with an aspirational dream for her people. That's nice but it doesn't necessarily lead to great art.
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