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The Great Debaters (2007)

PG-13  |   |  Biography, Drama  |  25 December 2007 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 45,350 users   Metascore: 65/100
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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 »
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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 11 wins & 8 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)
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 <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


When the nation was in need, he inspired them to give us hope.


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:





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
See  »

Did You Know?


On December 19, 2007, Denzel Washington announced a $1 million dollar donation to Wiley College so they could re-establish their debate team. See more »


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 »


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 »


Referenced in Scrubs: Our Drunk Friend (2009) See more »


How Long Before I Can Change My Clothes?
Performed by Alvin Youngblood Hart (as Alvin 'Youngblood' Hart)
Produced by G. Marq Roswell
Arranged by Alvin Youngblood Hart (as Alvin 'Youngblood' Hart)
See more »

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User Reviews

Elucidating entertainment
28 December 2007 | by (Palm Harbor, FL) – See all my reviews

THE GREAT DEBATERS is a movie-going treat, with young people exemplifying truth, respect, pride and dignity. In an entertaining way, with some preaching, this movie shows four African-American debaters succeeding in the face of adversity, growing stronger with success AND defeat. Their debates are lively and thought provoking.

However, before, during and after these contests, other serious and complicated issues are revealed. Two of these issues deal with a confrontation on the road between two farmers and a minister, and a lynching in the middle of the night. Both are reflections of the time, unsettling and disturbing to those in the movie and in the audience.

This is not family entertainment, nor is it mindless entertainment. It has no gratuitous sex, but there is a hint of romance. It is fast paced, but the action is verbal – not physical. THE GREAT DEBATERS lives up to its name in that it has something for everyone, and not everyone will like it. I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a quality film that will be debated by all who see it!

21 of 31 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
Anyone else notice a slightly Communist/Socialist slant to the film? g_wales
These are the kind of black movies... Ozyre Cekda
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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