The Great Debaters: Inspiring and Uplifting


As I watch The Great Debaters, I feel the real need of filmmaking classes for the filmmakers elsewhere. So basically when someone tells the audience that films are made to suit the demographics, they bullshit us because films like The Great Debaters break the notion and the thought on its very base. 

The Great Debaters, though itself inspired from a real story, is like one of those sports films in which one team which is the underdog gets inspired and wins the trophy from the favorite,  a team which looks way beyond its reach. Denzel Washington, the lead, and also the Director of the film makes sure he creates a cast that look exact replicas of anyone suited in the roles. Thus, when this team (Wiley College) wins against Harvard, you feel a sense of victory inside you, something that all such films create, if made from the right senses.

Washington himself plays Mel Tolson, a professor at Wiley College. He builds a school debate team and works hard to make sure they are best with great difference from the rest. The auditions that he takes are a treat to watch and Washington himself, polite yet aggressive, humorous yet serious, makes sure he captures your attention as he so easily does. Finally, after rigorous auditions, he gets ready his team.

The team constitutes Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), someone with great intellect coupled with great looks but easily sway able,  Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett) who is at Wiley to learn debating and in the future become the state’s third-ever black female lawyer and finally James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), the 14-year-old son of another Wiley professor (Forest Whitaker) and also Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams), a superb debater who eventually leaves the team for reasons of not being able to handle Tolson’s political pursuits.

There are two parallel stories which go on for a while. As this debate team starts winning and winning pretty easily against other black schools, Tolson and his rebel ways of acting as Labor organizer for local farmers provide a glimpse of the problems of those times. These were the same times when a black man could be lynched for no mistake of his. These were the bad times in the history of America. This team also found its share of threatening when they actually drove into a mob which was lynching a black person. Thankfully for the script, they could drive away.

Although the film touches on Tolson’s rebel ways, what is concealed is that he is one of America’s best poets. Tolson’s poems got published in magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly and in 1947 was actually named poet laureate of Liberia.

I would recommend this movie to not be seen for how they beat the best, but for how the entire black community in this film is seen to believe that education is their only way out to successfully be equals in a country, otherwise proud of its White culture. India, I feel somewhere needs to understand the same and work and we have examples to prove that with education has come affluence and with it misery often ends. The film is about being proud of your color and culture and not just being subservient to a lead. This team actually shows that they are black, proud of it and focused to win at something they are the best at, debating.

The Great Debaters is definitely one of the best I’ve seen and in it has a lot to learn from for filmmakers. Denzel Washington in himself is an institution. The movie does play around the facts a little as the in the great finale the real Wiley team does beat the national champions but they did not come from Harvard, and had actually were from USC. In the end though these things hardly matter because the idea of the film was well take care of.

the great debaters



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