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denzelpicforic.jpgRevealing the true geek that I am, I must admit I’m always hoping that one day someone will make a truly great movie about the art form and rhetorical skills of debate. The teen comedy “Rocket Science” wasn’t it and “The Great Debaters” isn’t quite it either, but it is a powerful civil rights story and period drama in its own right. It has a memorable cast led by Denzel Washington, but since it received limited release in theaters, I am making “The Great Debaters” my DVD pick for this week.


At a tiny Methodist college in Texas in the 1940s, a fiery professor, Mel Tolson, defies the social norms of the time by bringing unconventional techniques to his debate team while also masquerading at night as an activist, trying to unionize black sharecroppers. He has an occasionally uneasy rapport with the reverend who runs the school (Forest Whitaker) and he also bonds with an angry young man who is a member of the team. The controversy reaches a head when the team receives an invitation to compete in a debate with Harvard.
The debate scenes have some great inspiring dialogue— even though I can’t say they are that accurate to the nature of debate tournaments—and it is refreshing to watch a true story about African -American culture that does not revolve around sports or wars. And while the film has its flaws, it’s an educational story with enough heart to make it worth the watch.

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