Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Great Debaters

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The Great Debaters is a film directed by two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions, based on an article written about the Wiley College debate team by Tony Scherman for the 1997 Spring issue of American Legacy.

The film, loosely based on a true story, revolves around the efforts of debate coach Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) at historically black Wiley College to place his team on equal footing with whites in the American South during the 1930s, when Jim Crow laws were common and lynch mobs were a pervasive fear for blacks. In the movie, the Wiley team eventually succeeds to the point where they are able to debate Harvard University.

The movie also explores the social milieu of Texas during the Great Depression including not only the day-to-day insults and slights African Americans endured, but also a lynching. Also depicted is James L. Farmer, Jr. who, at 14-years of age, was on Wiley's debate team after completing high school (and who later went on to co-found C.O.R.E., the Congress of Racial Equality). According to the Houston Chronicle, another character depicted on the team, Samantha Booke, is based on the real individual Henrietta Bell Wells, "the only female member of the 1930 debate team from Wiley College who participated in the first collegiate interracial debate in the United States." Melvin B. Tolson also happens to be a major African American poet whose papers are housed at the Library of Congress.

The Great Debaters is one of my all time favorite and best drama film. It shapes how the blacks was treated in America. The segregation between whites and colored people which somehow reflects to what is still happening even today too.

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