DVD: The Great Debaters

I finally got around to seeing this movie, having picked it up on Netflix. No, not from Amazon.com, thought that is the link I’m providing above! It was well worth watching.

Denzel Washington is, as always, wonderful, with a good supporting cast. The story flows well and feels authentic.

I note that some viewers have thought it was a bit light on content (see refs in Wikipedia), that the movie didn’t go deep enough. I think it did quite well.

The problem is that so often those who review movies are very serious readers or viewers who know a topic very well and have thought about the major issues. If I review a Bible commentary, for example, I’m likely to be critical of points it fails to cover, even though those were not interests of the audience for which it was intended.

For a nation that is beginning to forget just how recent Jim Crow was in this country, just how recently African Americans were lynched, and just how recently it was that bathrooms were segregated not to mention schools, this movie talks about just the right issues.

There’s a very compelling scene in which Dr. James Farmer, who holds a PhD and speaks seven languages, is ordered around by a couple of white folks who quite possibly can’t read. At least that’s the implication, and I’m sure that was the reality in many cases.

As I watched the movie, I thought of this year’s race for the White House. I said when controversy erupted about Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s preaching that he was a civil rights leader from another time and we needed to understand where he was coming from. Just how angry and resentful might you be, if you had grown up black in the Jim Crow south? I understand in a small way what might make some people very angry.

At the same time it simply increases my respect for Barack Obama, who has turned the corner and is building a future together. But those of us who are white need to refrain from shock and amazement that the generation who had to live through that type of treatment haven’t yet gotten over it. I wonder how long it would take me!

The Wikipedia article also mentions an interesting difference between the historical debate team and the one in the movie. Despite their win over USC, the national champions (they used Harvard in the movie), the Wiley College team did not receive the trophy. They weren’t “in.”

I think the movie tells a great story and serves to remind us of some things that we need very badly to remember. We’d like to think these things happened in another age, but we’re only just over into the next century.