Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Great Debaters

I'm a little late with this one. (Prepare for a great excuse...I mean rationalization) But then again maybe not, not everyone that needs to see this important film--in a theater, not on a bootleg DVD--has done so.


The Great Debaters should have been released in January or February, not December. With so much hoopla over Will Smith combating alien-like creatures again, animated singing tree dwellers making a career comeback, and killer monsters annihilating each other in a sci-fi battle flick, this period film about a black debate team in the 1930's did not get the attention it deserved at the theater. In fact, it didn't even rank in the top 10 at the box office opening night.

Understanding the desire for Academy Award consideration, I realize certain steps were probably taken. However, I still believe The Great Debaters should have been released early 2008, tying into the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and Black History Month. And it also should have been released to more theaters. According to Yahoo Movies, the film opened to only 1171 theaters nationwide. Since then more screens have been added but I think the effort is too little, too late.

So why is this film so important for everyone to see, not just black folk? Because, the more you learn about American history the more you realize we've all been lied to. American history as we know it is exactly that, HIS story. And the writers of the text have conducted the best PR campaign known to man in promoting himself as the smartest, the prettiest, and the best at everything. Thus, films like The Great Debaters help tilt the unbalanced historical scale.

Secondly, this particular film is also very important because it tells the story of a team of W.E.B. Dubois' "Talented 10th". In the movie bright and eager students use their intellect not musical or athletic abilities to score against Jim Crow beliefs. Think back, many of the films we've seen in the past few years (Pride, Road to Glory, The Titans) have used sports events as the battlefield against racism and I applaud that. But to see a group of determined young students from an underestimated black college use books, research, oration, and strategic thinking to dispel myths of superiority moves me to a standing ovation.

And why is this film so relevant to this "download nation"? Because they as well as everybody need to get an understanding or better yet an appreciation of how things were before computers and how things came to be. Moreover, still too prevalent in our community is the notion that being articulate, quoting Langston Hughes, and setting a standard for yourself above that of your peers is somehow acting "white" or reversely wearing your pants below your butt, saying "wassup nigga", and ending sentences with "girlfriend" and a high five is acting "black". Debaters gives young people a different perspective without being preachy or heavy handed.

The writer in me wants to say more, but the internal blogger realizes this is going to appear too long and turn away some readers. So go see The Great Debaters , especially with age appropriate young people, then discuss it. Sometimes the best learning experiences do not occur in the classroom but on the drive home. You'll understand that better when you see the movie.

See interviews with the REAL Great Debators by clicking the picture below. Then visit the video section of the website.

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