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The Great Debaters (Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition)

5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Two-time Academy Award® winner Denzel Washington (American Gangster) directs and stars with Academy Award® winner Forest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland) in this important and deeply inspiring page from the not-so-distant past (Richard Roeper, At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper). Inspired by a true story, Washington shines as a brilliant but politically radical debate team coach who uses the power of words to transform a group of underdog African American college students into an historical powerhouse that took on the Harvard elite. DVD Special Features:

Disc One: Deleted Scenes
The Great Debaters: An Historical Perspective;That's What My Baby Likes Music Video. My Soul Is A Witness; Music Video. Theatrical Trailer
Sneak Peeks: Grace is Gone, Cassandra's Dream, I'm Not There, Hunting Party
Disc Two: The Great Debaters: A Heritage Of Music
Scoring The Great Debaters With James Newton Howard & Peter Golub
Learning The Art: Our Young Actors Go To Debate Camp
Forest Whitaker On Becoming James Farmer, Sr.
A New Generation Of Actors
The 1930's Wardrobe Of Sharen Davis
The Production Design Of David J. Bomba
The Poetry Of Melvin B. Tolson

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story Oct. 9 2013
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This is an inspiring story for all who are interested in history and the ability to confront challenges. Two thumbs up.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Movie March 29 2013
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This is a movie I would have to remind me of where we have come from on when I think of how far we have to go, as well is's just a good movie.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely amazing! May 27 2008
By D. Landry TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The trailers do not do justice for this amazing piece of art! I am a huge fan of both Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, but after watching the trailer, I wasn't too sure if I would like to view this movie, but I am very glad that I did as it was a real masterpiece! We have all seen many movies on racial issues, but this one shines on top of them all!

I recommend this movie without hesitation! Great cast all around, great performances, great storyline based on real events, great cinematography, and great entertainment!

The Great Debaters delivers on many levels the value of love, the evil of oppression, the ugliness of racism, and the beauty of triumph. A must see!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Amazing! May 27 2008
By D. Landry TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The trailers do not do justice for this amazing piece of art! I am a huge fan of both Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, but after watching the trailer, I wasn't too sure if I would like to view this movie, but I am very glad that I did as it was a real masterpiece! We have all seen many movies on racial issues, but this one shines on top of them all!

I recommend this movie without hesitation! Great cast all around, great performances, great storyline based on real events, great cinematography, and great entertainment!

The Great Debaters delivers on many levels the value of love, the evil of oppression, the ugliness of racism, and the beauty of triumph. A must see!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  230 reviews
73 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Debate: This Film Is Great! Jan. 22 2008
By "Rocky Raccoon" - Published on Amazon.com
`The Great Debaters' offers what great movie viewing is all about. Based on a true story, the film takes us to Wiley, an African-American Methodist college in Texas during the Depression in 1935. Inspiring, harrowing, and uplifting, the film gives proper transcendence especially during a time and place that didn't offer many breaks.

We are first introduced to Professor Polson (Denzel Washington), a tenacious idealist and poet. As professor at Wiley and debate coach, he hardly yields on any of his principles. Inspired by the man who is named for the heinous lynching, Polson tells his debate recruits that it was in Lynch's best interests to keep Black people, "Physically strong, but psychologically weak." It is with this explanation that we understand his zealous approach to his debate team, and why he makes their training so rigorous.

Entering the field are forty-five tryouts, of which, only four will be selected: two representatives and two alternates. Of the three who make it, we get to know Henry Lowe (Nate Parker) a charismatic and bright figurehead who is easily distracted by beautiful women and hard liquor. Joining him are Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett), the first young woman to join the debate team, and James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker) forever young at age 14, but an ever resourceful scholar and son of a minister, James Farmer, Sr. (Forrest Whitaker). [No real life relations.] As he notices a romance start to blossom between his teammates, his resentment grows. As the one who researches many of the arguments Henry and Samantha provide on the podium, he is put on the sidelines both in terms of the limelight and the love light.

As you might guess, Wiley enjoys a certain amount of success, and the price of success is opposition. Polson spends a great deal of his time and rhetorical talent organizing a sharecroppers' union, much to the chagrin of Sheriff Dozier (John Heard) who won't have unrest in his sleepy Texas town. In one scene the Farmer family is making a trek by car on a rural country road as they pass a poor white farm. The children who seem so mischievous run alongside the car as they pass along, unaccustomed to seeing a "Negro" with an automobile. Perhaps distracted by the nearby children, he runs over a pig, and in a quietly intense exchange between Farmer, Sr. and the owner, is extorted of a month's paycheck. This reminded me of a similar scene in the 1980's movie, `Centennial,' and showed the contrast between a good film with a similar theme and a great one.

In another part, the debate team makes their way by night to their debate destination when they come across a truly horrible sight. What they see through the windshield reveals a mob of white men who don't like having their heinous deeds brought to light. Shaken, they each try to come to cope with their discovery as they often lose focus and courage in the face of Polson's opposition and the violence laid before them.

Always kept in check by their unyielding leader, the debate team holds out for all possible opportunity. Audacious but unflinching, Polson invites Harvard to a debate match. One of the master strokes of the movie is how the debates and their topics match the action that goes on all around them. Show and tell is mixed expertly for a meaningful movie experience.

`The Great Debaters' is a top-echelon movie experience. Although it is reminiscent of movies like Mississippi Burning, To Kill a Mockingbird (Collector's Edition), and Akeelah and the Bee it captures a fulfilling true life story in a way that doesn't feel like rehash or contain a wasted scene. (Directed by Denzel Washington and screenplay by Robert Eisele)
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing drama Jan. 21 2008
By Kona - Published on Amazon.com
It is 1935, and at a small Negro college in Texas, Professor Tolson (Denzel Washington) is coaching the debate team. Its members include a sweet, pretty girl, a ladies' man, and a 14-year old whiz-kid. The students blossom under Tolson's leadership, but his extra-curricular activities may be a problem; at night he is secretly unionizing the share croppers, and the sheriff doesn't like it one bit.

I never expected a movie about a debate team to be intense, scary, or exhilarating, but "The Great Debaters" is all that and more. There are two stories here - one is the debate team and the other is life under segregation; both stories are compelling. The acting is uniformly outstanding; Forrest Whitaker and Washington support some lesser-known, but extremely talented young stars. We get to know their characters and care about them as they overcome their various obstacles to become the top Negro college debate team in the country.

The injustices of segregation are vividly and heartbreakingly portrayed; it was quite a sobering look at the legalized cruelty of that time and place. The fact that this is a true story makes it all the more inspiring. Heartily recommended.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Realistic History Portrayal, Powerful Dramatic Presentation June 11 2008
By 'MaryLou Cheatham - Published on Amazon.com
I first heard about THE GREAT DEBATERS when my friend and I were browsing through the antique shops of Arcadia, LA. The owner of one of those shops told me that several pieces of furniture out of her store had been purchased to use in the movie. That was fascinating. When you watch the movie, you'll have so much to see -- all the rich historical drama and good acting of a suspense-filled plot -- that you may not notice the authenticty of the set, including the furniture. If you buy the DVD, you will have enough interesting things to watch again and again.

It is sad to realize how things were in the 1930's in the part of the world where I live. This movie portrays the horrible way black people were treated. This story of Melvin B. Tolson, played by Denzel Washington, gives background information about the Civil Rights movement. Tolson's 1935 debate club at Wiley College, Marshall, Texas, stunned the nation. (I won't give the end of the plot away!)

Langston Hughes, the famous poet who authored "A Dream Deferred", visited Wiley College and said, "Melvin Tolson is the most famous Negro professor in the Southwest. Students all over that part of the world speak of him, revere him, remember him and love him." Tolson was active on many levels. In real life he was an English and speech professor, labor organizer, modern poet, novelist, debate coach, drama coach, and football coach! His methods were radical. At times while I watched the movie, I was anxious about some of his behavior as played by Denzel Washington. It is amazing that this man was not lynched.

Instead, the professor did just fine and eventually left Wiley College to teach in Oklahoma. Wiley College, located in east Texas between Dallas and Shreveport, is doing fine too. In fact, it continues to thrive and has one of th best teacher-student ratios in the nation.

I digress. Back to the movie, I admired the writers and producers, along with Denzel Washington (the director) for having the courage to tell the truth. The movie protrays painfully true pictures of both blacks and whites of the time. It shows the oppression of intelligent black people by uneducated white people. It also shows the conflicts within a young black man who struggled with issues related to moving into adulthood. The pain he caused a young woman is played with sensitivity.

To modern educators, the students may have seemed wooden in their debates. The professor rehearsed the students and taught them by rote.
In our time, we are so eager to make all our students independent thinkers that we do not achieve the discipline that made these debaters successful.

THE GREAT DEBATERS is much more than a movie about social causes. It is a beautifully acted and produced work of art.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Argument in Defense of this Film Dec 27 2007
By Chris Pandolfi - Published on Amazon.com
Denzel Washington's "The Great Debaters" has that classic feel-good attitude about it, the kind that can be both uplifting and inspiring when we feel that life is getting us down. I admit that sounds a little hokey. I also admit that the story is somewhat predictable, especially as it nears the end. But the strengths of this film far outweigh the weaknesses--this is a pleasant and enjoyable story, one in which overcoming adversity is not only the overall theme, but also the literal driving force of the plot. I use the word "plot" because I have no way of knowing how accurately it interprets real life; the year 1935 saw the debate team from Marshall, Texas' all black Wiley College compete with several major, mostly white universities. Leading Wiley's team was Melvin B. Tolson, an African American English professor who stirred up controversy not only because of his race, but also because of his radical political beliefs.

In the film, Denzel Washington portrays Tolson as a motivating but firm man of principle, believing that a debate can only be won through a strict regiment of reason and logic. The beginning of the semester sees the formation of a new debate team, and out of the forty-five students who try out, only four are chosen. One is Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), a young man so disillusioned by life that he drowns his sorrows in reckless behavior: he drinks; he womanizes; he gets into fights with dangerous people. He's also Tolson's mental and emotional equal--both are strong-willed and stubborn, and both are willing to match wits with each other. The second student is Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett), the first woman to ever be on Wiley's debate team. The feelings between her and Henry are strong, if a little stormy: while she does enjoy the occasional party, she doesn't appreciate the way he deals with his pain.

The third student is James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), who must have been brilliant since he was in college at age fourteen. He also has feelings for Samantha, but because she only sees him as a friend, he constantly feels rejected. It doesn't help that he's always assigned as the debate team's researcher; he'd like the chance to actually debate an opposing team. His drive to succeed academically was most likely brought on by his father (Forest Whitaker, and in case you're wondering, no, he's not Denzel Whitaker's real life father); as a professor, he believes that nothing is more important than an education. It's so important to him, in fact, that some may perceive him as unsympathetic and needlessly stern.

The fourth student is Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams), who's eager to please everyone, especially Professor Tolson. I wish more about this character had been explored, because being the teacher's pet is always indicative of some deep-seeded need for attention. As it was, this character is the least developed. One thing we do learn is that his father doesn't agree with communism, which is bad since rumors have been spreading about Tolson's political beliefs; dressed as a simple farmer, he secretly meets with other farmers--both white and black--and discuss how they should form into a union, which would theoretically mean equal pay for every worker. One such meeting is interrupted by a group of white vigilantes who, as you might expect, prefer the status quo to progression. Leading this group is Dozier (John Heard), Marshall's bigoted sheriff.

The major highlights of this film are the debate scenes, all of which are effective in their simplicity. They show how the Wiley team earned its reputation as undefeated champions, and the victories are so satisfying that it's easy to overlook the routine nature of the plot. Watching the students carrying off yet another trophy, I felt joyous and triumphant inside, and isn't that exactly the way I was supposed to feel? As a director, Washington has crafted a film that isn't at all unlike some of the better sports movies--it puts the characters through a series of trying circumstances only for them to arise as one and transcend. "The Great Debaters" definitely accomplishes that goal, and accomplishes it well.

This is a good thing because some heavy-handed material is not spared on the audience. Keep in mind that this takes place in 1935 in the Jim Crow south; the film's single most disturbing scene shows a white mob surrounding a lynched black man, his dead body hanging from a tree branch and burnt beyond all recognition. Tolson and his debate team see this as they drive late at night, and in the end, they barely escape with their lives.

The film culminates with the Wiley team debating Harvard University, an event so historic that it was broadcast all over the country via radio. I guess it doesn't matter that, in real life, Wiley never debated Harvard--for this story, Harvard is symbolic of that one major obstacle to be overcome. You're just going to have to see for yourselves if Wiley wins the debate; you might have some idea given the kind of film this is, but even if this is the case, I'd still recommend this movie to you. "The Great Debaters" is good-natured and inspirational, the kind of film we all want to see from time to time. In all honesty, it was an absolute pleasure to watch something so uplifting. Let's face it: movies about winning teams--of any sport--can make you feel like a winner, as well.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving experience Jan. 1 2008
By R. Kyle - Published on Amazon.com
Please allow me to give a brief summary of life for African Americans, circa 1935:

* "Jim Crow Laws" were in effect In the Southern US, requiring "separate but equal" facilities for Blacks and Whites, including schools, bathrooms, etc.
* African Americans weren't issued birth certificates by some States, thus denying them basic rights of existence
* African Americans were called Negroes--or worse, and treated accordingly
* If an Afican American wanted an education beyond high school, most went to private segregated colleges

Forgive me if you already know this, but for some, this brief history lesson is all the African American history they've had and this small amount will help understand the times and the people.

"The Great Debaters" takes place at Wiley College, a private Negro college, in Marshall, TX. The semester has just begun and it's time for tryouts for the debate team with Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) as the coach.

Out of 45 students, only 4 make the cut. That's two team members and two alternates. Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams) is the only returning student.
Henry Lowe (Nate Parker) is obviously the pick of the crop. He's so much of the same mind as Tolson, they could easily be enemies if they weren't aligned, but both men have their own demons chasing them. Samantha Booke, alternate, (Jumee Smollett), wants to be the third Negro woman to practice law in the State of Texas. She's ambitious and she nearly lets romance with Lowe get in her way. James Farmer, Jr., alternate, (Denzel Whitaker), is only 14 years old and being strongly pushed by his father Dr. James Farmer, Sr (Forest Whitaker, who is not related to him) to excel in his studies and not let the debate team get in his way.

Tolson's got an ambitious program started. From the beginning, he's writing top schools, challenging them to match wits with his students.

As the team wins, more invitations come in. Meanwhile, Tolson is privately leading an effort to form a union for the Black and White sharecroppers of the area. Unfortunately, the local farmers disapprove and the meeting's attacked with the local Sheriff in the lead. Tolson himself nearly goes to jail and loses one member of his team because he's got a dangerous reputation as a Communist.

"The Great Debaters" may not be completely accurate about the histories of the people it depicts, but it is an education to the times themselves. We learn some poignant lessons about the origin of the term lynching and see an example. We also learn about civil disobedience and what it really means--and costs--to stand up for what you believe in.

Some describe this as a 'feel good' or 'team' film and I don't dispute either of these findings, but "The Great Debaters" is also an opportunity to demonstrate the history of a time and of a people. In my opinion, this is a very good film to show to history classes of all colors, because too few people do realize the conditions of the past and the price African American people paid for a better education and more chances to interact and compete on an equal basis.
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