The Great Debaters

Every good story is comprised of words. When you are dealing with a story in which the ending is already disclosed, the words become even more important because they are what put the "shine" on a story, the facets on the diamond, so to speak. When it's a movie, the script has to be top notch or things drag.

"The Great Debaters" has an absolutely wonderful script, written by Robert Eisley, who was working from his own story which, in turn, was inspired by true events. The dialog is delicious (it centers around a debate team after all...), and the realities of 1930s Jim Crow south are wrenchingly portrayed. It's legal for vigilantes to hang "niggers" in Texas in the 1930s. Produced and directed by our reliable Denzel Washington ("Antoine Fisher"), this is, in my opinion, his best film yet. The script, the pacing, the humor, the acting, the photography, the depiction of the times, all are marvelously delivered to the audience.

Washington plays Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College, a small Texas school for blacks. Mel demonstrates intelligence, insight, wit and ambition, not only for his students, but for blacks in general. He inspires his class to form his school's first debate team and they go on to eventually challenge Harvard University. Mr. W. has never been wittier or more charismatic. I found the debates themselves to be delicious! Both sides are ably represented and no one is demonized. Everyone gives as good as he or she gets.

Forrest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland," "Panic Room" and directed "Hope Floats") is James Farmer, a colleague at the school who is much admired by his students, his fellow townspeople, his wife and his family, particularly his son James Jr., played by a young actor, Denzel Whitaker...who evidently is no relation to either of the stars!

It does my heart good to see the aristocracy of Black Hollywood putting out such fine movies. These are movies that promote solid values, intact families, respect for others, good manners, doing homework, reading, etc., etc., etc... I have noticed this to be true of Denzel Washington, (some) Eddie Murphy, (recent) Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and others. Despite Will Smith being one of the major movies stars in the world, his color never seems to be an issue in his movies. These guys don't have to stoop to "Bling," gang-banging, Rap, Hip Hop, jewel-encrusted teeth, and low-riders, the smarmy list is endless. When I go to their movies, I see them very, very well-attended, predominantly by black women with their kids in tow. Good for them! Those kids need to see how far we've come and how far we have yet to go.

I really liked this movie!