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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:

$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 »
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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

Melvin B. Tolson: Who is the judge?
SamanthaHenry LoweJames Farmer Jr.Hamilton Burgess: The judge is God.
Melvin B. Tolson: Why is he God?
SamanthaHenry LoweJames Farmer Jr.Hamilton Burgess: Because he decides who wins or loses. Not my opponeent.
Melvin B. Tolson: Who is your opponent?
SamanthaHenry LoweJames Farmer Jr.Hamilton Burgess: He does not exist.
Melvin B. Tolson: Why does he not exist?
SamanthaHenry LoweJames Farmer Jr.Hamilton Burgess: Because he is a mere dissenting voice of the truth I speak!
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Scrubs: Our Drunk Friend (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

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

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User Reviews

 
Elucidating entertainment
28 December 2007 | by msims1See all my reviews

THE GREAT DEBATERS is a movie-going treat, with young people exemplifying truth, respect, pride and dignity. In an entertaining way, with some preaching, this movie shows four African-American debaters succeeding in the face of adversity, growing stronger with success AND defeat. Their debates are lively and thought provoking.

However, before, during and after these contests, other serious and complicated issues are revealed. Two of these issues deal with a confrontation on the road between two farmers and a minister, and a lynching in the middle of the night. Both are reflections of the time, unsettling and disturbing to those in the movie and in the audience.

This is not family entertainment, nor is it mindless entertainment. It has no gratuitous sex, but there is a hint of romance. It is fast paced, but the action is verbal – not physical. THE GREAT DEBATERS lives up to its name in that it has something for everyone, and not everyone will like it. I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a quality film that will be debated by all who see it!


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