7.5/10
55,422
125 user 108 critic

The Great Debaters (2007)

Trailer
2:31 | Trailer
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.

Director:

Denzel Washington

Writers:

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

Videos

Photos

Edit

Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Denzel Washington ... Melvin B. Tolson
Nate Parker ... Henry Lowe
Jurnee Smollett ... Samantha Booke
Denzel Whitaker ... James Farmer Jr.
Jermaine Williams ... Hamilton Burgess
Forest Whitaker ... Dr. James Farmer Sr.
Gina Ravera ... Ruth Tolson
John Heard ... Sheriff Dozier
Kimberly Elise ... Pearl Farmer
Devyn A. Tyler ... Helen Farmer (as Devyn Tyler)
Trenton McClain Boyd Trenton McClain Boyd ... Nathaniel Farmer
Ritchie Montgomery ... Deputy
Jackson Walker ... Pig Owner
Tim Parati ... Pig Farmer
Robert X. Golphin ... Dunbar Reed
Edit

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:

View content advisory »
Edit

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 Farmer Jr. comes home after the late-night union meeting, he takes off his shoes. He ran through the woods, water, and mud to escape from the police, yet his pants are clean. 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 Scrubs: Our Drunk Friend (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

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

User Reviews

 
The Great Denzels
28 December 2007 | by ClaytonDavisSee all my reviews

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: ****/****


36 of 46 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 125 user reviews »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.
Edit

Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

25 December 2007 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Great Debaters See more »

Filming Locations:

USA See more »

Edit

Box Office

Budget:

$15,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$6,005,180, 30 December 2007

Gross USA:

$30,236,407

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$30,271,556
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

DTS | SDDS | Dolby Digital

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Contribute to This Page

We've Got Your Streaming Picks Covered

Looking for some great streaming picks? Check out some of the IMDb editors' favorites movies and shows to round out your Watchlist.

Visit our What to Watch page



Recently Viewed