Cover image for The great debaters
The great debaters
Washington, Denzel, 1954-
2-disc collector's ed., widescreen version.
Publication Information:
[New York, N.Y.] : Weinstein Co. ; Santa Monica, CA : Distributed by Genius Products, [2008]

Physical Description:
1 videodisc (124 min.) : sound, color ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 bonus disc.
Melvin B. Tolson is a professor at Wiley College in Texas. Wiley is a small African-American college. In 1935, Tolson inspired students to form the school's first debate team. Tolson turns a group of underdog students into a historically elite debate team which goes on to challenge Harvard in the national championship. Inspired by a true story.
General Note:
Originally released as a motion picture in 2007.

Inspired by the American legacy article by Tony Scherman.

Special features include: Disc 1. Deleted scenes; The great debaters, an historical perspective; "That's what my baby likes", music video; "My soul is a witness", music video. Disc 2. The great debaters, a heritage of music; Scoring The great debaters with James Newton Howard & Peter Golub; Learning the art, our young actors go to debate camp; Forest Whitaker on becoming James Farmer, Sr.; A new generation of actors; The 1930's wardrobe of Sharen Davis; The production design of David J. Bomba; The poetry of Melvin B. Tolson.
Disc 1. [Feature film; special features] -- disc 2. [Special features].
Reading Level:
MPAA rating: PG-13; strong thematic material including violence and disturbing images, language, and brief sexuality.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DVD 65767 Adult DVD Central Library
DVD 65767 Adult DVD Central Library

On Order



Drawing inspiration from the true story of a temperamental debate coach who molded the students of a small East Texas college into a formidable team that gave even Harvard's elite squad a run for their money, Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters features the director himself as the ambitious educator, and Forest Whitaker as the resentful father of a student whose loyalties now lie almost exclusively with his coach. Melvin B. Tolson (Washington) is the kind of educator who truly recognizes the remarkable power of knowledge. An outspoken Wiley College professor who boldly challenged the discriminatory Jim Crow laws of the 1930s, Tolson's recognizes that his young debate students possess the spark of a new generation. Convinced that they could invoke great change if given the confidence and tools needed to do so, the tireless educator implores his students to take responsibility for the future while furtively attempting to protect them from his clandestine role as an organizer for the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. Chief among Tolson's promising young students is a 14-year-old prodigy named James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker). Farmer's father, James Sr. (Forest Whitaker), is a renowned scholar and an important presence in the emerging student's life. Yet despite his formidable reputation, James Sr. has not yet learned how to truly harness the power of knowledge through action and assertion. James Jr. has seen the raving effects of racism all around him, and longs to live in a future where no one must be in fear simply because of the color of their skin. Other talented debaters on Tolson's team include fiercely independent student Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), and Samantha Brooke (Jurnee Smollett) -- the first ever female ever to join the Wiley College debate team. While most educators may not have recognized the remarkable potential of assembling such a disparate team, Tolson's unique vision truly set him apart from the pack as the team begins to experience a series of consecutive victories on their road to challenging Harvard at the National Championships. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi