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The Great Debaters in our magazines

THE MOVIE: The Great Debaters

Denzel Washington • Forrest Whitaker • Nate Parker • Jurnee Smollett • Denzel Whitaker
DIRECTOR: Denzel Washington

Inspired by a true story, a passionate professor, Melvin B Tolson (Washington), at Wiley College trains a group of young debaters (Parker, Smollett, Whitaker), who end up in a groundbreaking debate with the National Champions at Harvard.

U.S. RELEASE: December 28 2007, Nationwide
• Rated: PG-13


“We set up a debating camp for the kids. I met Dr Freeman, who’s the debating coach at Texas Southern, which is one of the top debating schools in the country, so I interviewed him and actually put him on film. I asked him if we could setup a mini-camp for the young actors and put them through their paces.”

NATE PARKER (Henry Lowe):
“We learned all about parliamentary and impromptu debate. Denzel was very adamant about us researching, knowing what we were talking about, and being well versed in the process of debate. So we got to Texas Southern University and they took us through and gave us a crash course, and Denzel said we should be more persuasive, being actors. Oh yes, we won!”

“What inspired me most about Denzel Washington is his integrity. It wasn’t even so much as watching him act or watching him direct, it was watching him in every other detail of his life. As a young actor, being in this business, sometimes it’s difficult. You see what Hollywood has done to certain people who went the wrong way, and you say to yourself, is it possible for me to be in this business 35 years and hold onto my integrity?”

JURNEE SMOLLETT (Samantha Booke):
“I would just add to what Nate was saying, his humanity and his devotion to the project because at the end of the day he was able to really check his ego at the door, and was so devoted to making the project honest – he’s the ultimate collaborator. He was our leader. It was his vision, but we were all doing this together.”

DENZEL WHITAKER (James Farmer Jr):
“I’ve always looked up to him from the beginning of my acting career. I just love how he’s humble. Just sitting behind his chair, when he was filming, seeing how he came on the set, he was passionate and you could see he loved what he does every day.”

WASHINGTON on the state of debating nowadays:
“We’re not developing that muscle that imagines as we used to. We went from spoken work to radio to television to film to computer. It’s not the sport that it was. Talking to Dr Freeman, they do have big debates but he said many times there will be ten to twenty people in the audience. I don’t know if it will ever be like it was, but I think the spoken word still is popular. It’s no coincidence that one of the dominant themes contributing to our culture now is Hip-Hop and Rap, which is getting back to poetry, whether you like what they’re saying sometimes or not.”

Hamilton Burgess  (Jermaine Williams), (James Farmer Jr  (Denzel Whitaker), Samantha (Jurnee Smollett) and Henry Lowe (Nate Parker)

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

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Images above © MGM/ The Weinstein Company
Feature © 2007 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #691, January 2008 cover

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