Spoiler Points for The Great Debaters (2007)

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Spoiler Points for The Great Debaters (2007) [PG-13] 123 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.50
DVD Release Date: 13 May 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer
Click to read the non-spoiler review
Click to see photos from the Premiere of The Great Debaters

Historical Accuracy:
• please visit the Wiley College page on the history of actual events used to inspire the film

Spoiler Points:
• Professor Tolson (Denzel Washington) is living a dual life of English Professor and debate coach by day and labor activist for the share croppers by night.
• After picking the team: Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams), and two alternates: Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett), and James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), they set out to practice. They soon learn that Tolson writes all of their arguments and rebuttals for them. This never sits too well with Lowe.
• After racking up quite a winning streak, the town is captivated by the team's success.
• One evening at a school sanctioned dance, Farmer Jr. becomes so upset over the blossoming relationship between Booke and Lowe that he leaves. On the way home, he notices Tolson leaving home dressed like a farmer. He follows him and ends up in the middle of a barn full of share croppers under the spell of Tolson's words. The barn gets raided by police, but Tolson and Farmer, Jr. get away.
• Rumors of Tolson's activities cause Burgess to quit the team. His parents don't want him to associate with a potential communist.
• This brings Samantha Booke into the spotlight as she takes over his spot. She proves herself a very worthy debate opponent and keeps the undefeated streak alive with some of the most riveting and compelling speeches of the film.
• On their way to a tournament in Oklahoma, the team, using not such a great map, and coach end up off the path and come upon a lynch mob just after they've completed the deed. The event has a profound effect on them all in each his or her own way. They narrowly escaped with their lives and arrived at a boarding house to rest their weary selves. But Lowe cannot handle the event. He leaves and goes carousing. He comes back drunk and with another women sending Samantha Booke packing.
• Young Farmer then is left to step in for Booke, and the result is the team's first loss of the season. Little Farmer is crushed, but when they return, Tolson learns that the team has been invited by Harvard to Cambridge, MA to debate in front of a large audience and, via radio, the nation.
• Tolson is arrested in his classroom in school, just as amends are being made between Booke and Lowe. He is taken by the Sheriff and the Texas Rangers to the station for booking on charges of disorderly conduct.
• Dr. James Farmer, Sr. (Forest Whitaker) arrives with Tolson's lawyer and an angry mob. The Sheriff is coaxed to let Tolson go. He doesn't tell the kids until the morning of their departure by train to Boston that he's not going to be able to go with them to Harvard.
• With Lowe now in charge, the team arrives in Boston. They are met at the station by a young man who escorts them to their quarters and informs them they will have a new debate topic they must write about themselves rather than using their rumored canned speeches.
• While this would cause most people panic, the team relishes the idea of writing their own debate arguments. That is until they get into a fight about using the Gandhi story as their opening. Lowe thinks it's too obvious, but Booke and Farmer believe if they don't use the obvious people will wonder why.
• Lowe storms out threatening not to be on the team. Farmer and Booke work to get the debate ready without him.
• Lowe has a change of heart and returns. But, he's got a new plan. He's not going to debate, Farmer is.
• They show up, and the debate hall is packed. They are introduced by the Dean of Students and shown the trophy. They, with the affirmative, begin the debate with the Gandhi story. Their opponents rebut perfectly as if they knew this was coming.
• The next few speeches they fall a bit further behind the Harvard debaters despite rousing words. It's as if their every move has been anticipated, until the Harvard debater makes a fatal mistake in debate. He uses his personal story as evidence in his position. He speaks grandly of his father the policeman and the loss of his partner. It's such a rookie mistake it's a wonder that a national debate champion would make it. It's a mistake because when you use personal story evidence, you open the door for your opponent to do the same, and they're personal story could be vastly superior to yours. If is, you will lose the point, and most likely the debate. Thus is the case in this case.
• Young Farmer gets up, the entire nation listening, his family listening back home on the radio, and stares in silence until he has complete control of the audience. He waits, patience his virtue, and then he unleashes the beast. He shares with the audience his team's tragedy of happening upon a lynching one evening on their way to a debate. With grim horror in his eyes he explains what they saw in gory but respectful detail. He finishes his point to a standing ovation. Later the team receives their huge trophy.

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