The Great Debaters, directed by Denzel Washington, is an inspirational movie about a specific debate team overcoming racism in the segregated South. It is based off of the debate team of Wiley College, a small religious black school in East Texas, during the Great Depression in the s. Great Debaters Essay The Great Debaters In reviewing the film “The Great Debaters” I found it to be captivating and the elements of the movie made it very relatable to the viewers. With this being a true story I found that it was very easy for me to understand that these young kids really wanted to find themselves and a voice in the process. The Great Debaters offers a fictionalized and limited account of the exploits of the award-winning Wiley College debate team headed by Melvin B. Tolson, an African-American English professor, during the Depression years. Jul 14, · The Great Debaters 3. In the film The Great Debaters, Denzel Washington, is a debate team coach to a group of disadvantaged African American Wiley . Wiley College debaters would most likely take the side of no helmet, but that’s what I’m guessing. Overall I really enjoyed the movie. I liked the message of the film; it hit all the points that it needed to hit about social injustices.
Some of the most powerful scenes in the film deal with the oppressive conditions of racism and the sheer terror of the Jim Crow system that dominated the South well into the twentieth century.
The film opens with Professor James Farmer, Sr. Forest Whitaker , one of the first African Americans to receive a Ph.
In another scene, as the team is driving to participate in a debate, they encounter a black man hanging lifeless from a tree. The totally disfigured and barely human body is surrounded by whites who seem to take pleasure in what they have done. Lynching, organized as a community event, was commonplace as a means of terrorizing blacks and diverting and suppressing the anger of very oppressed sections of white workers. Texas was third among states, after Mississippi and Georgia, in the total number of recorded lynchings.
Between and , records indicate that mostly black men were lynched in Texas.
The Great Debaters Essay
As the farmers convene a meeting to discuss their strength in unity, they come under attack from a vigilante mob. It is revealed later in the film that the local sheriff participated in the raid, along with racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.
While The Great Debaters touches on important historical issues, very little is explained in the film about what was a tumultuous period of American history. Unless one has former knowledge of the year —the height of the Great Depression in the US, a period dominated by mass unemployment, homelessness and hunger—it is not brought across in the film that it was within this context that figures like Melvin Tolson emerged.
Leadership in The Great Debaters Essay
While this author could find nothing written to indicate this was the case, both the CP and Socialist Party were involved at the time in efforts to organize the STFU, and Tolson certainly would have been familiar with the perspective and political arguments advanced in their publications.
While debates during the s were organized differently from the way they are today—where coaches agree in advance to a particular subject, and then flip a coin to see which team begins with the affirmative side—in real life, the Wiley team did not always argue for progressive positions.
The film would have been strengthened and its dramatic tension increased had the team been portrayed, even once, in defense of a reactionary position. The same convictions that drove his work with the Forensic Society of Wiley College were behind his efforts to unite black and white tenant farmers. Unfortunately, this side of the story is presented in a rather one-sided way in the film.
The more prominent white actors are cast in the roles of the racist farmers, a reactionary sheriff and arrogant white student debaters. There was certainly no shortage of such reactionary layers in the Deep South during this period.
Great Debaters Essay
And while it is true the film script had to summarize events stretching over a long period of time, the way these characters are cast is to the detriment of both historical accuracy and dramatic depth. As an example, the film portrays the audience attending the debate at the University of Oklahoma as racially polarized: Contemporaneous newspaper reports, however, give a far different account.
At the actual event, the audience was caught up in the strength of arguments and intellectual integrity of the participants on both sides, regardless of racial characteristics and collegiate affiliation. In the South, I have seen the children of ex-slaves shaking hands with the grandsons of the masters after the debate.
Instead—and certainly driven by the considerations of Hollywood—the film sets out to present Tolson as a brilliant middle class intellectual, generally separated from the social conditions that shaped his activities. How to cite this page Choose cite format: