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Interview: Nate Parker, Denzel Whitaker, and Jurnee Smollett of “The Great Debaters”

posted by Nell Minow

The three talented young stars of “The Great Debaters” talked with me about making the film and the teachers who inspired them.

Nate Parker on what makes a great debater:

Denzel Whitaker on why you should see the movie:



  • Insane Kitten

    Don’t you mean Forest Whitaker?

  • Betty J Banks

    I can hardly wait to see this movie; I saw the rerun on the O show today.

  • Nell Minow

    Kitten, believe it or not, the young man’s name is Denzel Whitaker. He is not related to either Denzel Washington or Forest Whitaker. But like them, he is wonderfully talented and it was a joy to talk to him.
    Betty — thanks for the comment! I saw that Oprah interview both times and enjoyed it very much. When you see the movie, I hope you will let me know how you like it.

  • Ellen Price

    My husband and I saw the movie last night and we loved it! We both were moved by many scenes in the movie. It was such an inspiration!(The audience clapped at the end!)
    As I watched, I kept wondering if it was based on a true story and I was so thankful to find that it was. Wow… Now I want to find out more about the actual story of these Great Debaters.
    Even as horrible things continue to go on in this world, movies like this give me hope in the power of individuals to affect change and make a difference in this world. I believe that the world is going through a simultaneous process of integration and disintegration – progress and regress – and that, one day, the progress and “light” in the world will overcome darkness. I pray that I am guided every day to do my part to make positive changes in this world.
    I am thankful to everyone who was involved in bringing this movie into fruition.
    God bless!

  • Marleece Peart

    My husband and I saw the movie on Christmas Day. This is an excellent movie. There were many so many emotional scenes in this movie and there were funny and inspiring scenes as well.
    I hope that this movie inspires young people when it comes to rethinking black on black crime and the language that young people use everyday to speak to each other.

  • linda

    Ms. Minow, I have heard some reports about the real meaning behind the movie “The Golden Compass”. I read on a Christian site that it would not be suitable for young children to see or be mislead by even because the movie is atheistic.I read that the director,Paul/Phil?? is a devout atheist. What do you know about this or have you heard anything concerning this matter? Thank you for your response.
    Linda P.R.

  • Nell Minow

    Thank you for your comment, Linda. There has been a lot of controversy about this film, and I have tried to summarize it on the site several times. In my opinion, the film is deeply spiritual. It is, after all, about the integrity of the soul. The bad guys in the film are with an organization called The Magisterium (in the book, it is called The Church). But it is the people who are the bad guys, not religion. It is people who exploit religion for their own power.
    The Catholic League, which is not a part of the Catholic Church, has called for a boycott of the film not because of what is in it but because of what the author, Philip Pullman has said and because of material in the other books. Some Christian groups have objected as well, on the same grounds. But others, like Christian writer Donna Frietas, have written about the Christian themes in the books and the movie.
    Remember that the movie is PG-13 and not intended for children but for middle-schoolers and high schoolers. I do not think it will cause anyone of that age to question faith in God. I do think it will cause audiences to consider thoughtfully the preciousness of the soul and the importance of loyalty and integrity and freedom. That is what stories are intended to inspire. Thanks for writing and if you have further questions and I can be of help, let me know.

  • ernie graham

    I SAW THE MOVIE LAST NIGHT AND I MUST SAY IT WAS GREAT,THAT NATE PARKER GUY IS A GREAT ACTOR

  • gjjkk

    ISN’T NATE PARKER A GREAT ACTOR? I AGREE WITH YOU, TOO!

  • Jasmine Victor

    The Great Debaters is an incredible film that teaches us about our past, inspires and instills hope in the audience. The entire cast, especially the young debaters (Jurnee, Denzel, Nate and Jermaine) fantastic and believable. If you couldn’t tell, I loved this movie. :)
    My favorite quote that has stayed with me is, “We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do.” Also, Mr. Washington’s advice to his cast – “We learn to do by doing.” This is what encourages me to “fight the good fight” and what I strive to teach my siblings and future generations.
    Kudos to all involved in the making of this film and God bless.

  • Linda Lewis

    I am an eighth grade teacher in Raleigh, NC. African American Heritage month is February. I am searching and pleading for you to come to my school and speak to our students. I think that you are a great inspiration, to me, and could be to my friends. In eighth grade you experience an identity crisis, and I think you could shed some light on the adolescent years. If you would be willing to come and share with us please reply. thank you, Linda

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