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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

When James gets home after being selected for the debate team, he is holding his books with their spines towards his left arm. But when he sets them down to go speak with his father, the spines are towards his right. See more »

Quotes

James Farmer Jr.: [opening package] Five dollars? Lowe, I got five dollars!
Henry Lowe: Yeah, I did too. It's called per diem. Want me to hold it for you?
James Farmer Jr.: No, not MY five dollars.
Samantha: [walks into the room waving her money in the air] I got five dollars! I got five dollars!
Henry Lowe: Yeah, me too.
Samantha: Well, mine is crisp.
[watches James gulp down a strawberry]
Samantha: James, this is high tea, all right? We nibble, we do not DEVOUR.
James Farmer Jr.: How do you know?
Samantha: [smiling] I don't.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Youth in Revolt (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

Up Above My Head I Hear Music in the Air
Performed by Sharon Jones, Alvin Youngblood Hart (as Alvin 'Youngblood' Hart) with Billy Rivers & The Angelic Voices of Faith
Produced by G. Marq Roswell
Written by Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Courtesy of The Weinstein Co.
Arranged by Sharon Jones, G. Marq Roswell, Kristin Wilkinson, Larry Paxton,
David Huntsinger & Bonnie Huntsinger
See more »

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User Reviews

 
The Beginning of Civil Rights Legislation
31 December 2007 | by (15th Row Orchestra) – See all my reviews

Of course the title deals with debating but it goes far deeper than that. Forest Whitaker, playing a true academician in every sense of the word, has both a precocious and gifted 14 year old son played by the brilliant Denzel Whitaker,no relation, and that son is none other than James Farmer Jr.,whom 7 years later becomes the founder of C.O.R.E., the Congress on Racial Equality. Thus began the beginning of the end of segregation as well as the vicious Jim Crow laws of the South which made it as difficult for a Negro to live and thrive there as it did for the Jew in pre-war Third Reich Germany. Yet, the film was basically not political in theme.

It deals with a small black college in Texas,Wiley,that had a poet plus a political agitator played by Denzel Washington as many students' mentor. Denzel, knowing that if given the chance, a few gifted students could form a debating team to challenge any college team in the nation and he sets out to prove it. Keep in mind that the main theme of the Civil Rights Movement was "if given the chance" and so the film builds on it and does the kind of damage to opponents as did the great "Brown Bomber," Joe Louis.

Although a bit slow moving and at times, pretentious, the film was very skillfully done in bringing to light the efforts accomplished by the African Americans to do away with the perniciousness having pervaded this nation from the time the first slave ship landed on our shores. Without delving into the ultra-political, nevertheless we are made to see for ourselves how prophetic became the words "We can overcome".

Who wrote, "And the youth shall guide them?" Truer words never written. Those Wiley College kids, without anything but minds for weapons, caused a revolution from the mid '30s to the present--kids who put real meaning into the Emancipation Proclamation.


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