“Debate is blood sport. It’s combat. But your weapons are words.”
The Great Debaters, starring and directed by Denzel Washington, is a film based on the real life events at Wiley College, a predominantly black college in Texas. The story takes place in 1935. Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) is a poet and professor of the university who hosts open tryouts to form the university’s first ever debate team. Four highly talented and intellectual individuals are selected to represent this team and go on to do magnificent things. The debate team of Wiley College go on to become the first ever group of black students to challenge Harvard’s prestigious debate team.
This movie has quickly become one of my favorites. ‘The Great Debaters’ is not only a film but a social commentary on civil disobedience and discrimination. We continuously see black characters being affected by discrimination, both directly and indirectly, through violent events (that actually happened in real life) and disturbing monologues that rattle with our own emotions. This film masterfully uses the troubled experiences of these young debaters and presents them on an open debate stage, which allows for a compelling story to unfold. The movie also features my favorite ever performance from Denzel Washington. He is supported well with a few breakthrough performances from Nate Parker, Denzel Whitaker and Jurnee Bell who play the debaters of Wiley College. Oh and also Forest Whitaker plays an interesting role in this movie as well.
Though this film is listed as a ‘drama film’ it is so much more than that. Not only is it a social commentary but it is also a romantic film. There was a very interesting ‘love triangle’ scenario in the film which kept me at the edge of my seat throughout. At times this aspect of the movie was heartbreaking to watch, but I presume that was the plan. The last thing I have to say about this film is its quotability. I started this review of with a quote and for a good reason. This movie is so quotable. There were some memorable quotes. I mean some really memorable quotes from history, literature and poetry that I will remember for the rest of my life. The best thing is that these quotes are perfectly in tune with the rest of the movie. They inspire and discourage characters and play a crucial role in the debates that take place in the film.
The negatives of this movie are mostly just nitpicks. The ending of the movie was a bit predictable given that everything that had happened prior was just building up to it. In addition I felt that the actual debates that were shown in the movie, as enthralling and socially relevant as they were, were short told.
Overall the positives of ‘The Great Debaters’ far outweigh the negatives. This movie is not just a drama, but a social commentary on race and civil disobedience with a mesmerizing romance at its heart . Denzel Washington delivers his greatest ever performance and is supported well by Nate Parker and Denzel Whitaker. Also, this movie delivers some killer quotes that will certainly stick with you for a very long time.