After buying a copy of the 2-disc DVD, I have now seen “The Great Debaters” again. The film was quite beautiful on the big screen. It is still compelling to watch at home.
On the one hand, I find that my anger is renewed as I recall the bigoted and supremacist responses that surrounded the white response to the film. How it was shunned completely by the Academy and exiled by so-called informed conceptions of excellence.
The second viewing brought it home ever more clearly how Denzel Washington crafted an experience of struggle that was liberated from documentary precision in order to serve purposes of deeper human catharsis. Critics used the word “formula.” Well, dear viewer, let me ask you. Has “formula” kept you away from Indiana Jones, Batman, Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D or any other predominantly white franchise this summer?
On the other hand, I can forget about everybody else and enjoy the film’s immersion into a period of history that I have enjoyed and shared with others for decades. The DVD offers Interviews with a few folks who remember Melvin B. Tolson and J Leonard Farmer (Sr.). For anybody gearing up for another year on campus, here is a film about the kind of education that is all about moving history forward.
In the final analysis, I think this is a history-making film, with all of the good and bad parts that history makers play, on screen and off. For students of Civil Rights in Texas, “The Great Debaters” is a rare tribute to what gets done here, and will therefore remain bewildering to many eyes for some time to come.–gm