The Great Debaters (2007) Movie Review
By: Hossein Aghababa
Directed by: Denzel Washington
Robert Eisele (screenplay & story)
Jeffrey Porro (story)
Tony Scherman (inspired by the American Legacy article)
Denzel Washington - Melvin B. Tolson
Nate Parker - Henry Lowe
Jurnee Smollett - Samantha Booke
Denzel Whitaker - James Farmer Jr.
Jermaine Williams - Hamilton Burgess
Forest Whitaker - Dr. James Farmer Sr.
Gina Ravera - Ruth Tolson
John Heard - Sheriff Dozier
Kimberly Elise - Pearl Farmer
Devyn A. Tyler - Helen Farmer (as Devyn Tyler)
Trenton McClain Boyd - Nathaniel Farmer
The Great Debaters: How Does Racial Discrimination Look Like?
The movie is about a debate team from Wiley College of Marshall, Texas trained by Professor Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington). The little team of Negros College has been able to win local teams. The team was also invited by Harvard which is the national champion. One night when Tolson and his young team were on their way back to home they saw a group of whites who was lynching a black. This experience made them think of their society deeper. The movie is a mixture of debating exercises, secretive life of Professor Tolson, and making motivations for young black kids to demonstrate themselves. The movie is explicit enough on the issue of racial discrimination.
Racism is the belief that there are inherent different traits in human racial groups which justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature (i.e. which harms particular groups of people), and which is often justified by recourse to racial stereotyping or pseudo-science.
Modern usage often equates "racism" and "racial discrimination" and defines the latter term only as applying to pernicious practices. Differential treatment of racial groups that is intended to ameliorate past discrimination, rather than to harm, goes by other names (e.g. affirmative action); the characterization of this practice as "racism", "racial discrimination" or "reverse discrimination" is normally only done by its opponents, and typically implies a belief in the harmful nature of the practice with respect to the groups not receiving assistance.
Racism is popularly associated with various activities that are illegal or commonly considered harmful, such as extremism, hatred, xenophobia, (malignant or forced) exploitation, separatism, racial supremacy, mass murder (for the purpose of genocide), genocide denial, vigilantism (hate crimes, terrorism), etc. "Racism" and "racial discrimination" are often used to describe discrimination on an ethnic or cultural basis, independent of their somatic (i.e. "racial") differences. According to the United Nations conventions, there is no distinction between the term racial discrimination and ethnicity discrimination.
Some sociologists have defined racism as a system of group privilege. In Portraits of White Racism, David Wellman has defined racism as "culturally sanctioned beliefs, which, regardless of intentions involved, defend the advantages whites have because of the subordinated position of racial minorities". Sociologists Noël A. Cazenave and Darlene Alvarez Maddern define racism as "...a highly organized system of 'race'-based group privilege that operates at every level of society and is held together by a sophisticated ideology of color/'race' supremacy. Sellers and Shelton (2003) found that a relationship between racial discrimination and emotional distress was moderated by racial ideology and public regard beliefs. That is, racial centrality appears to promote the degree of discrimination African American young adults perceive whereas racial ideology may buffer the detrimental emotional effects of that discrimination. Racist systems include, but cannot be reduced to, racial bigotry,". Sociologist and former American Sociological Association president Joe Feagin argues that the United States can be characterized as a "total racist society" - "Police harassment and brutality directed at black men, women, and children are as old as American society, dating back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. Such police actions across the nation today reveal important aspects of . . . the commonplace discriminatory practices of individual whites . . . [and] white dominated institutions that allow or encourage such practices."
Some sociologists have also pointed out, with reference to the USA and elsewhere, that forms of racism have in many instances mutated from more blatant expressions hereof into more covert kinds (albeit that blatant forms of hatred and discrimination still endure). The "newer" (more hidden and less easily detectable) forms of racism – which can be considered as embedded in social processes and structures – are more difficult to explore as well as challenge.
The movie is a good picture of blacks' efforts to get out of the limbo of racism. To this end, they have had to prove themselves in a positive way during the past decades. Although discrimination has a nasty view, the races should catch up the whole society in terms of the level of study, skillfulness, and social responsibility.
1. Wellman, David T. (1993). Portraits of White Racism. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. pp. x.
2. Cazenave, Noël A.; Darlene Alvarez (1999). "Defending the White Race: White Male Faculty Opposition to a White Racism Course" Race and Society 2. pp. 25–50.
3. Feagin, Joe R. (2000). Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. New York, NY: Routledge. p. 26.
4. "Traditional" American Culture: Benign and Wholesome or Inherently Racist?"