The Great Debaters (2007)

I am here to help you to find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.

— Melvin B. Tolson

I haven’t seen The Great Debaters since it was in theaters at the end of 2007 when it nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Picture. I went to see it because it had the Oprah stamp of approval on it. It was there. I liked the movie, but then it waned when I heard if this movie was based on any semblance of truth.

Back in 1935, a small Marshall, Texas college named Wiley is home to one of the best debate teams in the state. They want to prove themselves that they could be the best debaters of the entire country. The outspoken Professor Tolson (Denzel Washington) wants to ensemble the best team that he could find to carry out his goal.

Forty-five students auditioned for only four spots on the team. The lucky four are the core debaters; the troublemaker Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), the bookish Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams) and the alternates, the fourteen year old prodigy, James Farmer Jr (Denzel Whitaker) and the first female on the team, transfer student, Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett).

The chemistry between the team members is shaky at best when the shy James likes Samantha, but the alpha male, Henry swoops in to get her first. James, Sr. (Forest Whitaker) does not take to kindly of having a girl on the team to distract Junior from keeping his eyes on the prize.

There is something deeper with this story when James Jr follows Professor Tolson one night after a party to find him leading a sharecroppers meeting calling for a union. It is raided by the police and James swears to never speak a word to anyone about it.

The debate team first tries to challenge the top Negro colleges.  After a series of victories, it can open doors for debating the best White colleges going all the way to the grand daddy of them all, Harvard.

The reason that I have hesitation with this movie is because even though this movie is based on true events. Some of the people in the story were made up or an accumulation of several people. The only one that were real are the Farmers and Professor Tolson. The debate team did not challenge Harvard. They went against the University of Southern California and they could not be declared winners, because they were not considered in debate society at the time.

A movie about people debating is nice to see it snippets, but not a whole movie about it.

Judgment: I know that it’s supposed to be inspirational, but something was lost in translation for me.

Rating: 6/10


About Branden

Branden: I am just your average movie nut that reviews films. Gives his take on pop culture and Hollywood happenings. Dreams to have his own thriving website and make a living doing what he is passionate about.

Posted on April 18, 2011, in 2007, Drama, Inspirational, Running Feature, The SIL Festival and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. wow, i thought this was a very good movie, and incredibly underrated. many true-life stories aren’t exactly meant to be inspirational, but tell a story and capture the actual events. i thought it did that. and the acting was fantastic. definitely should have been remembered during award season.

    • I did like the movie at the time of release, but when I heard the back story of the characters and the situations, you positive thoughts on it changed. I can’t help it.

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