7.6/10
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119 user 113 critic

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

This movie was the first, since 1979, to be allowed to film on Harvard's campus. See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

James Farmer Jr.: In Texas they lynch Negroes. My teammates and I saw a man strung up by his neck and set on fire. We drove through a lynch mob, pressed our faces against the floorboard. I looked at my teammates. I saw the fear in their eyes and, worse, the shame. What was this Negro's crime that he should be hung without trial in a dark forest filled with fog. Was he a thief? Was he a killer? Or just a Negro? Was he a sharecropper? A preacher? Were his children waiting up for him? And who are we to just lie ...
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Connections

References Men in White (1934) See more »

Soundtracks

Shortenin' Bread
Performed by the Grambling State University Marching Band Quartet
Traditional
Produced by G. Marq Roswell
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User Reviews

 
Though I speak with the tongues of angels, but have not love....
24 December 2007 | by (the big screen) – See all my reviews

"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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