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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

Denzel Whitaker, who plays Forest Whitaker's character's son, is not related to him or Denzel Washington. See more »

Goofs

At one point, Mr. Tolson says "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." This quote was originally attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his "Letter From Birmingham Jail," which was written in 1963. See more »

Quotes

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 »

Connections

References Men in White (1934) See more »

Soundtracks

Two Wings
Performed by Alvin Youngblood Hart, Sharon Jones with Billy Rivers & The Angelic Voices of Faith
Produced by G. Marq Roswell
Written by Alvin Youngblood Hart, G. Marq Roswell, Kristin Wilkinson & David Huntsinger
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Exceptional Film, Extremely Talented Cast
17 December 2007 | by gelman@attglobal.netSee all my reviews

Although "The Great Debaters" does not open until Christmas, I had the good fortune of seeing it at a preview -- and I can recommend it without reservation. It is a great story, based on real events that most of us never heard of, about a debating team from Wiley College, a small black institution in rural Texas, that performs extraordinary feats because the kids are good and the team is taught by Mel Tolson, a real person, acted by Denzel Washington, who also directs. Forest Whitaker, like Washington an academy award winner, plays James Farmer Sr., the school president and the father of one of the debaters, James Farmer Jr. (yes, that James Farmer Jr.). The participation in this enterprise of Washington, Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and the Weinstein brothers should draw crowds (provided the film isn't cursed by being described as "uplifting," though it is). The revelation in this film are the performances of the three principal debaters: Jurnee Smollett as Samatha Booke (with an "e", as she proclaims when she tries out for the debate team), Nate Parker as Henry Lowe (also with an "e" as he announces in response to Samantha's declaration) and Denzel Whitaker as James Farmer Jr. (It's an amusing coincidence, but he is unrelated either to Denzel Washington or to Forrest Whitaker.) You may have seen Jurnee Smollett earlier in her career when she was a "cute kid" and a promising actress. This film could be her portal to stardom. In addition to being a gorgeous young woman, she's also an accomplished actress, ready for bigger parts in the future. You'll also be impressed with her colleagues, people whose names you may never have heard. You don't have to be black to find this film engrossing; I'm not. All you need to be is (a) a human being and (b) someone who appreciates a good movie. I hope it makes a ton of money at the box office but it is, above all, a quality film. It just happens to be about a difficult period in American history, the rural South in the 1930's. It just happens to be inspirational and uplifting and all that good, boring stuff that cause your eyes to roll when that's how the critics describe it. But it's better than uplifting. It's GOOD and it's REAL.


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