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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

This movie was the first, since 1979, to be allowed to film on Harvard's campus. See more »

Goofs

At the Harvard debate the radio coverage is announced as WNBC. Those call letters didn't come into use until 1946. In 1935 the flagship station of the National Broadcasting System was WEAF in New York City, which headed up its Red Network. NVC's other network was the Blue Network, headed by WJZ in NYC. See more »

Quotes

Henry Lowe: A brilliant young woman I know was asked once to support her argument in favor of social welfare. She named the most powerful source imaginable: the look in a mother's face when she cannot feed her children. Can you look that hungry child in the eyes? See the blood on his feet from working barefoot in the cotton fields. Or do you ask his baby sister with her belly swollen from hunger if she cares about her daddy's work ethics?
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Half in the Bag: Red Tails (2012) See more »

Soundtracks

Begrüssung
Performed by Marian Anderson
Public Domain
Courtesy of BMG Classics
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Though I speak with the tongues of angels, but have not love....
24 December 2007 | by inteleartsSee all my reviews

"The Great Debaters" is a very fine film.

It reminds us of what it means to be excellent, to stand for something good, to love with all our hearts, and to shine.

The performances, or the cinematography, historical care, or directorship all lift it out of the ordinary.

And in its difficult subject: racial tension and the education and discovery of values by the three young debaters from Wiley College, one of the oldest colleges in America, it creates real excitement and interest.

But the real reason that this is a fine film lies in is its plea that in education lies the reasoning, the power, and the will to change history. That learning lies not just in knowledge but also in applying that knowledge to better yourself, your world, and all of humanity.

The very significant point of the film is at the end. I can forgive the slight drag here and there because the ending is magnificent and explains something crucial about American history by its finish.

From an era when bigotry, racism, and degrading behavior was a wretched norm to our era where values are mutable, where dumbing down has no limits, and taste little place; "The Great Debaters" stands out as being a story that stands against all of these things.

The rating says it all: excellent.


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