Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Real Great Debaters DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Relates True Story of the Great Debaters

A year ago, Denzel Washington directed and co-starred in The Great Debaters, a compelling, if fanciful docudrama which recounted how a debate team from an unheralded, Southern black college had traveled in 1935 from Texas to Cambridge, Massachusetts to defeat Harvard and win the national championship in a competition aired live, coast to coast, on national radio. Unfortunately, because Hollywood had taken considerable liberties with the truth in bringing the tale to the big screen, many of the events were either sensationalized or fabricated entirely, and the ensuing controversy resulted in a desire of many to separate fact from fiction.
As it turns out, the truth proves to be just as riveting to anyone interested in this critical chapter of African-American history. For tiny Wiley College, led by its intrepid and dedicated coach, Professor Melvin B. Tolson, did in fact defeat the reigning champion, but that all-white team was not from Harvard, but USC. Also, the film had combined and/or conflated the members of the original debate team into simplistically-drawn archetypes ostensibly in the interest of fashioning readily-recognizable characters for an easily-digested inspirational yarn with mass appeal.
Now, however, thanks to director Brad Osborne, we have The Real Great Debaters, a fascinating documentary which doesn’t merely correct the record, but amplifies that priceless legacy by sharing a cornucopia of rich details about Tolson and his talented young protégés, Hobart Jarrett, Hamilton Boswell, Rudolph Henry Heights, James Farrmer, Jr., and Henrietta B. Wells. Archival footage, newspaper accounts and the wistful recollections of friends, family and luminaries combine to paint a rich picture of the complete lives of Tolson and his team and how they managed to beat the odds en route to their amazing accomplishment.
An overdue, posthumous tribute to some African-American role models worthy of emulation.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 74 minutes
Studio: AS Pictures
DVD Extras: Extended interviews, rare historical film footage, “Behind the Scenes” featurette, “Life at Wiley College” documentary, and much more.

To see a trailer for The Real Great Debaters, visit:

1 comment:

Oneliner said...

Sorry for the "off-topic" comment Kam, but could you tell me if the New York Film Critics Online have selected a date for their awards 08/09?


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