Every sista’s favorite swoon unit (Denzel Washington) helms this triumphant film based on the true story of historically Black Wiley College in Texas, where controversial debate coach Melvin B. Tolson fought to get his debate team on equal grounds alongside their white debating counterparts during the 1930s, amidst racism, lynchings, and Jim Crow.
An important and truly moving film, it also boasts the fine acting of Washington’s fellow Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker as James Farmer, Sr., a well-known pastor around those parts, whose son, James Farmer, Jr. (played by Denzel Whitaker – no relation to either but how he could he NOT get the role with a name like that?), one of the famed debaters, went on to found Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE).
It also stars the fantastic and truly underrated Jurnee Smollett (Eve’s Bayou) as Samantha Booke, the first female debater on Wiley’s debate team, and she also delivers one of the best moments in the film that had the entire audience – especially the women – whoopin’ and hollerin’.
Another great surprise is up-and-comer Nate Parker as the fiery Henry Lowe, who turned in one of the best performances of the film and certainly held his own with Washington in a few scenes.
Washington does a great job with this great, uplifting story that needs to be told and seen by all, regardless of race, that shows the many obstacles – including themselves – the Wileyites had to overcome.
The Great Debaters – certainly in this case, talk is FAR from cheap.
© 2008 FilmFetish.com, Review by Charles Maye