The Great Debaters

Denzel Washington directs this rousing film based on the true story of the Wiley College debate team, which eventually found itself challenging Harvard in a championship debate. Washington also stars as Melvin B. Tolson, organizer of the team and a professor at the college. His presence is great, because the debate team is played by a group of relative unknowns, and you get a true sense of Washington guiding them, both on and off the screen. This leads to some great performances, including Jurnee Smollett as the team’s only woman, and Denzel Whitaker as James Farmer Jr., an eventual leader of the civil rights movement. Nate Parker is terrific as the rebellious teen who winds up leading his team into the final debate. I expect big things from Smollett and Parker in the future, and this—the second film from Washington as a director—is a marked improvement over his decent debut, Antwone Fisher.

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