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The vital lines of the film "The Great Debate"


Enviado por   •  25 de Septiembre de 2011  •  410 Palabras (2 Páginas)  •  775 Visitas

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Based on a true story, the plot revolves around the efforts of debate coach Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) at historically black Wiley College to place his team on equal footing with whites in the American South during the 1930s, when Jim Crow laws were common and lynch mobs were a pervasive fear for blacks. In the movie, the Wiley team eventually succeeds to the point where they are able to debate Harvard University.

The movie also explores the social constructs in Texas during the Great Depression including not only the day-to-day insults and slights African Americans endured, but also a lynching. Also depicted is James L. Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), who, at 14 years old, was on Wiley's debate team after completing high school (and who later went on to co-found C.O.R.E., the Congress of Racial Equality). According to the Houston Chronicle, another character depicted on the team, Samantha Booke, is based on the real individual Henrietta Bell Wells, the only female member of the 1930 debate team from Wiley College who participated in the first collegiate interracial debate in the United States. Wells also happened to be a minor African American poet whose papers are housed at the Library of Congress.

The key line of dialogue, used several times, is a famous paraphrase of Augustine of Hippo: "An unjust law is no law at all."

Another major line, repeated in slightly different versions according to context, concerns doing what you "have to do" in order that we "can do" what we "want to do." In all instances, these vital lines are spoken by the James L. Farmer Sr. and James L. Farmer, Jr. characters.

Historical background

The film depicts the Wiley Debate team beating Harvard College in the 1930s. This meeting actually never occurred. The debate most likely similar to the one depicted by the movie was the match up between Wiley and the University of Southern California, who at the time were the reigning debating champions. Wiley College did indeed win this matchup.[3] According to Robert Eisele: "In that era, there was much at stake when a black college debated any white school, particularly one with the stature of Harvard. We used Harvard to demonstrate the heights they achieved."[4]

The film omits another reality: even though they beat the reigning champions, the Great Debaters were not allowed to call themselves victors because they were not truly considered to belong to the debate society; blacks were not admitted until after World War II.[5]

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