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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.



(screenplay), (story) | 2 more credits »
3,940 ( 925)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 11 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »



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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
Pig Owner
Pig Farmer
Dunbar Reed


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


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:





Release Date:

25 December 2007 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Debate Pela Liberdade  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$15,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$3,604,000 (USA) (21 December 2007)


$30,226,144 (USA) (11 April 2008)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


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 »


When Prof. Tolson lectures his students about the origin of the word "lynching," he refers to the Willie Lynch Letter or Willie Lynch Speech, which are generally considered modern-day hoaxes. There is no historical or archival record of either before the 1990s, when they first appeared on the Internet. No 1930s professor could have cited them. See more »


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 ...
See more »


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


Rock and Rye
Performed by David Berger & The Sultans of Swing
Produced by G. Marq Roswell & David Berger
Written by James R. Mundy
Courtesy of Such Sweet Thunder Recordings
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User Reviews

Very Good But Familiar
27 December 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The movie was exactly what I had expected: a compelling story, strong actors and a great message. However, while Denzel delivers another stellar performance, you can't help notice that it has been seen several times before. You can mix the racial tensions of "Remember the Titans" with the underdog vibe of "Hoosiers," "Freedom Writers," and "Stand and Deliver" to understand where this is going. The story has solid pacing, a great cast and an easy to understand plot; a few minor side steps (talented but tormented student, first female student fighting both racism and gender issues, a younger than average student fighting for a father's love/respect while coming of age) but the message holds up and delivers an appropriate but completely unsurprising conclusion. A few frightening images for children need to be balanced with the powerful messages those images represent but overall an enjoyable movie but you will see the third act coming from a mile away....

12 of 21 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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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