The Great Debaters (2007) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Great Debaters (2007)



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

The Great Debaters Trailers & Photos

Movie Info

True story of professor Melvin B. Tolson who formed a debate team at a small, African American college in the 1930s. The team went on to beat Harvard in the national debate championships.more
Rating: PG-13 (for depiction of strong thematic material including violence and disturbing images, and for language and brief sexuality)
Genre: Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Robert Eisele, Jeffrey Porro
In Theaters:
On DVD: May 13, 2008
Box Office: $30.0M


Denzel Washington
as Melvin B. Tolson
Nate Parker
as Henry Lowe
Jurnee Smollett
as Samantha Booke
Denzel Whitaker
as James Farmer Jr.
Jermaine Williams
as Hamilton Burgess
Forest Whitaker
as Dr. James Farmer Sr.
Gina Ravera
as Ruth Tolson
John Heard
as Sheriff Dozier
Kimberly Elise
as Pearl Farmer
Devyn Tyler
as Helen Farmer
Trenton McClain Boyd
as Nathaniel Farmer
Jackson Walker
as Pig Owner
Tim Parati
as Pig Farmer
Robert X. Golphin
as Dunbar Reed
Justice Leak
as Harland Osbourne
Glen Powell
as Harvard Debater No. ...
Brad Watkins
as Harvard Debater No. ...
Brian Smiar
as Harvard Dean
Voltaire Rico Sterli...
as Paul Quinn Debater #...
Gordon Danniels
as Paul Quinn Debate Ju...
Steve Rider
as Paul Quinn Debater #...
Bonnie Johnson
as Dr. Jennings
Gordon Daniels
as Paul Quinn Debate Ju...
Donny Boaz
as Oklahoma City Colleg...
Sam Whisnant
as Oklahoma City Colleg...
J.D. Evermore
as Captain Wainwright
Gary Mathis
as Enormous Man
Frank Ridley
as Security Guard
Jeremiah Kissel
as Radio Announcer at H...
Jack Radosta
as White Man at Lynchin...
Harold Evans
as William Taylor
Southey Blanton
as White Labor Organize...
Michael Mattison
as White Sharecropper #...
Jeff Braun
as White Sharecropper #...
Milton R. Gipson
as Prairie View Profess...
Marcus Lyle Brown
as Howard Debater #1
Alvin Youngblood Har...
as Juke Joint Musician ...
Dominique Flemons
as Juke Joint Musician ...
Justin Robinson
as Juke Joint Musician ...
Rhiannon Giddens
as Juke Joint Musician ...
Ahmad Powell
as Fisk Professor
Gino Crognale
as Puppeteer
Michael Deak
as Puppeteer
Alex Diaz
as Puppeteer
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Great Debaters

Critic Reviews for The Great Debaters

All Critics (136) | Top Critics (46)

Despite its transparent manipulations, the film is more decent than it deserves to be, particularly when the kids step up to the podium and get passionate

Full Review… | January 29, 2008
I.E. Weekly
Top Critic

As for Mr. Parker and Ms. Smollett, there's no debating what awaits them -- stardom, very soon.

Full Review… | January 3, 2008
Wall Street Journal
Top Critic

Washington directed as well as starred, and it is clear he has no trouble wearing both hats at once

Full Review… | September 8, 2008

This is a wonderfully acted and directed movie, that has something important to say

Full Review… | August 22, 2008
Sin Magazine

I was having mediocre day and I walked out of the movie totally pumped up and ready for the rest of the day, even though it was 10pm at night.

Full Review… | June 1, 2008

There's a real organic sense in the film of how young minds can be nurtured and energized way beyond sex, sports and slacker attitude, into caring and evolving kid works-in-progress. And how debating can be pretty cool too, who knew?

Full Review… | May 2, 2008

Audience Reviews for The Great Debaters


Inspiring American story that''s told much like a sports movie - very much a "feel-good" film, not amazing but quite enjoyable.

Daniel Perry

Super Reviewer


an amazing film without question. let me start with my disclaimer, denzel admitted to knowingly and willfully changing major facts in this story for the purpose of manufacturing extra "inspiration". I am strongly against this practice in films based on true stories. if the story is worth telling, tell it the way it happened, if you need to change the story too much then its not worth telling. the acting on every front was absolutely phenomenal, the story despite the inaccuracies was beautiful, and the film was shot well and very engaging.

danny d

Super Reviewer

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 Wieser
Raymond Wieser

Super Reviewer

The Great Debaters Quotes

James Farmer Sr.: Are you fooling around with that girl son?
– Submitted by Jesse K (3 years ago)
Henry Lowe: I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
– Submitted by Agbomeji O (3 years ago)
Melvin B. Tolson: Debate is blood sport. It's combat. But your weapons are words.
– Submitted by Vishal S (3 years ago)
Henry Lowe: Who is the judge?
James Farmer Jr.: The judge is God.
Henry Lowe: And why is he God?
James Farmer Jr.: Because, he decides who wins or loses, not my opponent.
Henry Lowe: And who is your opponent?
James Farmer Jr.: He doesn't exist.
Henry Lowe: And why doesn't he exist?
James Farmer Jr.: Because, he is a dissenting voice to the truth I speak.
– Submitted by Mani K (4 years ago)

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