The Great Debaters

Critics Consensus

A wonderful cast and top-notch script elevate The Great Debaters beyond a familiar formula for a touching, uplifting drama.

79%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 131

86%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 116,796

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Movie Info

Poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) teaches at the predominately black Wiley College in 1935 Texas. He decides to start a debate team, something nearly unheard of at a black college. While at first he butts heads with the influential father (Forest Whitaker) of one of his best debators, eventually he is able to form a team of strong-minded, intelligent young students, and they become the first black debate team to challenge Harvard's prestigious debate champions.

Cast & Crew

Forest Whitaker
Dr. James Farmer Sr.
Nate Parker
Henry Lowe
Denzel Whitaker
James Farmer Jr.
Jermaine Williams
Hamilton Burgess
Gina Ravera
Ruth Tolson
John Heard
Sheriff Dozier
Kimberly Elise
Pearl Farmer
Devyn Tyler
Helen Farmer
Joe Roth
Producer
Bob Weinstein
Executive Producer
Harvey Weinstein
Executive Producer
David Crockett
Executive Producer
John R. Jenson
Art Director
Patrick T. Cassidy
Set Decoration
Show all Cast & Crew

News & Interviews for The Great Debaters

Critic Reviews for The Great Debaters

All Critics (131) | Top Critics (43) | Fresh (104) | Rotten (27)

Audience Reviews for The Great Debaters

  • Nov 08, 2011
    When it comes to the racial issues touched upon in this film, we only skim the surface, but when it comes to the art of debating, this film is more than a regular formula drama of similar subject matter. It's engrossing, well-written, inspiring, and powerfully acted all round. I would expect nothing less than stardom for Nate Parker and Jurnee Smollett very soon.
    Raymond W Super Reviewer
  • Dec 27, 2010
    This movie goes to show that great actors can also be great directors. Denzel Washington plays a prominent role in this film. The script is outstanding with amazing quotes all around it. This film is about a group of African Americans students getting together to form a group of the best debaters that the college can offer. Their goal is to bring notice to the race issues. The movie is over all a good history lesson to learn how people have suffered because the color of their skin.
    Ricardo G Super Reviewer
  • Aug 27, 2010
    The great debaters are based on a true story about an all black debate team journey to the top. Over time they all white debate teams that are prejudice of the black students. The black debate team became so close that they vow that will not give in to hard times. Then soothing bad happen that torn the team part. Will they stay together or go there separated ways.
    erika b Super Reviewer
  • Aug 13, 2010
    Actors-turned-directors have an informed perspective that often lends itself to their crafting either indulgent performance pieces (Sean Penn’s The Crossing Guard, Luke Wilson’s The Wendell Baker Story) or stylized story-driven vehicles (Warren Beatty’s Reds, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven). Thankfully, for the sake of great filmmaking, Denzel Washington falls into this latter category, giving audiences one of the year’s most brilliant and sympathetic dramas. Building upon the promise of his excellent Antwone Fisher, Washington gives audiences a beautifully drawn period piece with his sophomore effort—and yes, it just happens to be perfectly cast and played. In this PG-13-rated Washington-directed drama, a professor at a small African-American college (Washington) uses the power of words to shape a group of underdog students into a debate team. So thought-out are Washington’s aesthetics that Depression-era Texas seems to sprawl out, with all of it’s dusty whiskey tint, right at the audience’s fingertips in stunning and impeccably captured natural hues. The performances match the visuals in a synergetic tête-à-tête that awesomely brings to life the time and the place. This investment in the here and now, of course, makes the subject matter all the more tangible and timely—regardless of how ugly it becomes. Washington and Whitaker both invest a decent amount of time upon this canvas but only once do they share the same frame, rendering a one-two acting school knock-out worthy of DeNiro and Pacino’s classic Heat match-up. The final show-stopping piece gives rise to one of the most rousing audience pleasing moments in recent screen history. Bottom line: No debate here—-just good cinema.
    Jeff B Super Reviewer

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