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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.

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 »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Denzel Washington ... Melvin B. Tolson
Nate Parker ... Henry Lowe
Jurnee Smollett-Bell ... Samantha Booke (as Jurnee Smollett)
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
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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:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

25 December 2007 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Debate Pela Liberdade See more »

Filming Locations:

USA See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$15,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$3,604,000, 23 December 2007, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$30,226,144, 13 April 2008
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 »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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 »

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

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 »

Connections

Featured in The 75th Golden Globe Awards (2018) See more »

Soundtracks

Wiley College Fight Song
Performed by the members of The Grambling State University Marching Band
Produced by G. Marq Roswell
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Very Good But Familiar
27 December 2007 | by northstopSee 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....


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