'The Great Debaters (Special Collector's Edition)'
(Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, et al / 2-Disc DVD / PG-13 / (2007) 2008 / Genius Products)
Overview: Inspired by real events, the fascinating The Great Debaters reveals one of the seeds of the Civil Rights Movement in its story of Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington in a captivating performance) and his champion 1935 debate club from the all-African-American Wiley College in Texas.
DVD Verdict: "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. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
The Great Debaters: An Historical Perspective
"That's What My Baby Likes", Music Video
"My Soul Is A Witness", Music Video
The Great Debaters: A Heritage Of Music
Scoring The Great Debaters with James Newton Howard & Peter Goulb
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