“The Great Debaters” Movie on DVD  » Movies  »
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  • I thought it would be like the movie, Akeelah and the Bee , which involves the quest of a young girl to win the national spelling bee
  • After watching The Great Debaters I didn't feel much wiser about how to drive my viewpoint home, but I enjoyed the film nonetheless
  • Two scenes in the film which involve Forest Whitaker's character particularly impressed me
  • The father sees the trajectory that events are about to follow and steps up to deliver his most persuasive argument of why it is in the best interest of the sheriff to try to get the mob to disperse

    • by charles63
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      I looked forward to watching “The Great Debaters” because I hoped to pick up some pointers on how to argue more persuasively. I thought it would be like the movie, “Akeelah and the Bee”, which involves the quest of a young girl to win the national spelling bee. After watching it, I felt I had a much better idea of what it takes to learn how to spell words, even words I had never heard of before.

      After watching “The Great Debaters” I didn’t feel much wiser about how to drive my viewpoint home, but I enjoyed the film nonetheless. The mechanics of debate simply weren’t the main concern of the story. It was focused more on the struggle of black people to assert their equality in the United States of the mid-1930s. Some debate training techniques are touched upon, but the young debaters in the movie are depicted as having an


      instinct for formulating convincing arguments on the spot, even before they received training from their coach.

      Denzel Washington plays the debate coach, which was another reason why I wanted to see the film. His acting is always solid, though he never entirely disappears inside the characters he portrays. That chameleon act, in this film, is performed by his co-star, Forest Whitaker, who plays the father of the youngest of the debaters.

      Two scenes in the film which involve Forest Whitaker’s character particularly impressed me. In the first, he accidentally hits a farmer’s pig while on an automobile outing with his family. The farmer and his companion, who menacingly brandishes a gun and looks as though he’d enjoy using it at the slightest pretense, take full advantage of the situation to extort an exorbitant settlement. The father must walk a fine line between being accommodating, and not being a total pushover. Failure on either ...


      • front could result in a hair-trigger response and jeopardize both his life and the lives of his family. The role calls for the actor to project simultaneous weakness and strength, and Whitaker delivers.

        In the second scene, the debate coach is arrested for trying to start up a labor union. An angry mob descends upon the jail, and the local sheriff doesn’t seem too anxious to protect his prisoner. The father sees the trajectory that events are about to follow and steps up to deliver his most persuasive argument of why it is in the best interest of the sheriff to try to get the mob to disperse. It’s another high voltage moment and an ultra controlled performance by Whitaker.

        I was not familiar with any of the actors who portrayed the young debaters, but each is very convincing. Jurnee Smollett is especially effective as the lone woman on the debate team who,

        in order to succeed, must break the gender barrier, as well as the color barrier.

        The film is based on true events, though some details were changed for dramatic impact. After watching the film, I was puzzled how a small school such as Wiley College was able to do so well against large institutions. A clue is in the DVD’s interviews of the actual debaters themselves. One of them explained that many of the teachers at the college were educated at Ivy League colleges, and then came to Wiley College to teach. I wish the film had delved more into this aspect of the story, but with a running time of slightly over 2 hours, there no doubt wasn’t room.

        The version that I watched was on a single disc, but it is also available in a 2-disc Collectors’ Edition. It’s a movie that’s well worth watching, particularly because of its factual underpinnings.




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