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The Great Debaters (2007)

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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.

Genres:

Biography | Drama

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 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 »

Goofs

On the train, the combine is placed between the coach and the observation car, and the baggage car is in the back. At the time, large pieces of freight, like combines, were put at the front of the train, behind the baggage car. See more »

Quotes

Samantha: James, you know I value your friendship...
James Farmer Jr.: How can you value something you never had?
Samantha: So... we were never friends?
James Farmer Jr.: Maybe I don't want to be just your friend. Maybe it HURTS me to be just your friend!
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Jeopardy!: The IBM Challenge: Day 3 (2011) See more »

Soundtracks

Shortenin' Bread
Performed by the Grambling State University Marching Band Quartet
Traditional
Produced by G. Marq Roswell
See more »

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User Reviews

 
The Great Denzels

In his sophomore effort, actor-director Denzel Washington has created one of the best films of the year, The Great Debaters. Never trying to be the cliché coming of age tale of student-teacher relationship that becomes like a bad aftertaste like past efforts, as Mona Lisa Smile; the film takes a high road to transform its narrative into a beautiful canvas for Washington to paint on like forgotten masterpieces like Stand and Deliver and Dead Poet's Society. Adapted from a Tony Scherman article by Robert Eisele and Jeffrey Porro, the film follows an astonishing pace and never forcing anything down the audience's throat rather, uses images and manifestations for its armor.

Washington's achievement here is pulling the performances of this new, unknown young actors. Denzel Whitaker as the innocent, curious James Jr. is wonderful in exposition of character and gives the best child performance of the year. At 17, young Whitaker should have no problem coming into his own as a great young leading man in the future. Nate Parker in a momentous breakthrough performance indulges the audience as Henry, the angry young college student dealing with the inequalities of African-Americans in the South. In the end it's the tenacious performance by the beautiful Jurnee Smollett that holds the emotional premise of the film together. Not only dealing the racial barrier, but the barrier of being a woman, a woman running away from her past and trying to settle into a world dominated by the differences of her own. Smollett's debate speeches are felt with every word, every expression, and every influential command. Smollett's performance is the ignored performance worthy of consideration for awards of 2007.

Not expecting too much from last year's Oscar winner Forest Whitaker probably helped him in watching the film. Whitaker reminds the viewer of how great he was for years before The Last King of Scotland. This is a true superior work on the actor's resume. So how Denzel Washington do in directing himself? Not glossing as much as Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner past works, Washington does an admirable effort and takes the supporting role (yes it's supporting) and acts as the film's right hand man. Adding his charisma, potency, and veteran thespian persona, the film is a success.

In terms of Oscar's chances, costume designer Sharen Davis nominated for her designs in Ray and Dreamgirls is worthy of citation. David J. Bomba's production design is quite easy on the eye and captures the era of tyranny and persecution. With the potential to be a late surge to the Academy Awards race, The Great Debaters delivers on every level encompassing the richness of love, the evil of oppression, and the beauty of triumph.

Grade: ****/****


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Message Boards

Recent Posts
These are the kind of black movies... Ozyre Cekda
Anyone else notice a slightly Communist/Socialist slant to the film? g_wales
Great movie, but large mistake made at the end... Metfan2987
The story is a lie jonathanlerner111
The lynch scene rujivachirapong
I still have to bring it up, No Country for Old Men???? dafranchise692001
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