The Great Debaters, a film from The Weinstein Company and Harpo Productions, takes us back to a time where the color of someone’s skin was enough reason to get them treated differently. Denzel Washington both stars in and directs this story about how a small college debate team from Marshall, Texas overcomes great odds to defeat the Harvard elite in a debate. The movie, which is based on a true story, takes us from the formation of the team to their win in Boston, showing us step by step what the team members go through.
Melvin B. Tolson is the man behind the college debate team, hand-selecting his debaters from the group that tries out for the team. This group includes the first woman on the debate team, and the son of another prominent figure and speaker who is also a professor at the college. The team goes through its own inner turmoil with romances and friendships all causing problems among the team members. As for their leader, he has his own issues to deal with as the head of the local union. This causes problems for him, and he is arrested in this film as he is accused of being a communist. In the end, the team goes on without their leader to win the debate on their own merits and not because of their coach.
This movie is uplifting. It takes us back to a time where this world was very different. The color of one’s skin made all the difference in how people were treated. People were killed for the color of their skin. They lived in fear of what might happen if they spoke too loudly. These four on the debate team and their coach spoke up regardless of that. They went against teams at white colleges, and they won. Eventually they beat the best college in the nation at that time, and many may say the best college in our nation still, Harvard. One young man on the debate team was barely fourteen years old, but it was his speech that won the debate for them.
Washington has an ensemble cast surrounding him, including Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker as the father of the youngest member of the debate team. The cast of young stars also does well in this movie, shining on screen as they live their lives and give their speeches to packed crowds. The movie successfully shows a time we might have forgotten but really shouldn't because it has shaped the world we live in today. Although things have changed from that time to this, there are still prejudices in this world.
The two-disc collector’s edition of the movie has a number of special features including deleted scenes, interviews with those who lived with and knew the people in the film, and more behind the scenes footage which takes us into the creation of this film and how it tells the real life story of this amazing debate team and their mentor. The Great Debaters is a film to lift hearts and should be included in any person’s DVD collection.