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The Great Debaters [Blu-ray]

4.7 out of 5 stars 976 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Inspired by a true story, The Great Debaters chronicles the journey of Professor Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington), a debate team coach who shapes a group of underdog students from a small African American college into a historically elite debate team.

Special Features

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Product Details

  • Actors: Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker
  • Directors: Denzel Washington
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Dubbed, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Dubbed: Spanish
  • Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    PG-13
    Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • Studio: The Weinstein Company
  • DVD Release Date: January 11, 2011
  • Run Time: 124 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (976 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00465I17E
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,053 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rocky Raccoon VINE VOICE on January 22, 2008
Format: DVD
`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.
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Format: DVD
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.
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Format: DVD
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.
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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.
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