2 hours, 3 minutes
PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned.
for strong thematic material including violence and disturbing images, and for language and brief sexuality.
Disc 1: Deleted scenes; The Great Debaters: an historical perspective; "That's What My Baby Likes," music video; "My Soul is a Witness," music video;
Disc 2: The Great Debaters: a heritage of music; Scoring the Great Debaters with james Newton Howard & Peter Golub; Learning the art: our young actors go to debate camp; Forest Whitaker on becoming James Farmer, Sr.; A new generation of actors; The 1930's wardrobe of Sharen Davis; The production design of David J. Bomba; The poetry of Melvin B. Tolson
This compelling drama has been inspired by the life of Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington "Training Day"), a poet and professor at the all-black Wiley College in Texas, who inspired his students to form the school's first debating team in the 1930's. Tolson was a tough but independent-minded coach inspiring his debaters to fight the racism inherent everyday in the segregated South and make a name for themselves as the best debaters in the all-black college debates in which they competed.
The film, also directed by Denzel Washington ("Antoine Fisher"), naturally has some formulaic components to it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is inspiring, well acted, and totally entertaining. In fact, it this combination of these elements plus a well-written screenplay by Robert Eisele that makes this a memorable movie.
Although Denzel Washington both directed and stars, it is clear he has no trouble wearing both hats, although some may complain that he didn't attempt to sound like a Texan. Another highlight is the fine supporting performance of Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland"), as Dr. James Farmer, Sr., the town's strict preacher. The most prominent student-debaters are played by Nate Parker ("Dirty"), Jurnee Smollett ("Roll Bounce") and Denzel Whitaker ("Training Day"). Their excellent performances rival their much more experienced co-stars.
But the film is most inspiring because the stakes for these student debaters are so high. Oppression is something we can all relate to, and the oppression and racism in the Jim Crow south is particularly dramatic and emotional. And as a result, you invest in their success because what they are fighting for is so much more important than simply winning, especially when they are finally invited to debate the all-white Harvard University team.
Denzel Washington ... Melvin B. Tolson
Nate Parker ... Henry Lowe
Jurnee Smollett ... Samantha Booke
Denzel Whitaker ... James Farmer, Jr.
Jermaine Williams ... Hamilton Burgess
Forest Whitaker ... Dr. James Farmer, Sr.
Gina Ravera ... Ruth Tolson
John Heard ... Sheriff Dozier