I’m going to make more of an effort to broaden my horizons and step outside of my comfort zone with my movie choices. For example, “feel good” movies are NOT my thing. They’re fine, but I prefer darker movies. I don’t really go to the movies to be inspired. Maybe that makes me a screwed up person, I don’t know. I was reluctant to see The Great Debaters, Denzel Washington’s second directorial effort, because I knew it was one of those tear-jerk happy ending numbers. After watching it I feel embarrassed for having been so hesitant. It was inspiring, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
As you probably know, the movie is a fictional account of the true story of the debate team of Wiley College, a tiny Black school in Texas. Set in 1935, the film shows the courage, intelligence, and tenacity of the young debaters and their instructor, portrayed by Washington. It culminates in the team’s historic victory over Harvard. I haven’t given anything away, and if you have a TV you already knew everything I’ve relayed thus far. Comprised primarily of newcomers, the cast was very impressive, and there are some faces to watch for in the future. Denzel Whitaker and Nate Parker star as James Farmer and Henry Lowe, respectively. Farmer is the youngest member of the team, a sweet, smart young man whose affection for teammate Samantha Brooke (Jurnee Smollett of Roll Bounce and Eve’s Bayou) is both comical and endearing. Henry Lowe is the most confident, headstrong member of the team, and he and Washington’s character briefly clash as Henry learns just who is in charge. Jurnee Smollett continues to show that she is no flash in the pan, and gives a weighty performance. As a matter of fact, with the inclusion of Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) and Kimberly Elise (John Q), this cast was truly amazing. It’s nice to see a movie based on true events that inspires hope and leaves room for the possibility of wonderful things in life. The Great Debaters accomplished this without sugarcoating the racial atrocities that took place during the time period. It is this authenticity that makes the movie more than a cutesy, “feel good” flick, and for that reason I recommend it without reservation.