The Great DebatersHistory is filled with individuals that achieved great things both for themselves and for others. There are names that have been immortalized and are known by many while others are buried until someone sheds a bright light upon them. This time, someone is director/actor Denzel Washington and executive producer Oprah Winfrey.

Melvin Tolson (Washington) was a professor at Wiley College, an all-black school in Texas. In 1935, he brought together a debate team that would make history by challenging and defeating all-white colleges and eventually beating Harvard in a debate broadcast across the country. In addition, to leading his team to victory, Tolson was also helping local crop growers unionize.

The young actors brought together to tell this story (Nate Parker, Denzel Whitaker, Jurnee Smollett and Jermaine Williams) are very talented and while interviews focused on the great find Whitaker was, I think he is equally matched by Parker. As the two key characters that propel the story, they provide very different perspectives: Whitaker’s character is a boy in an adult’s world forced to come to terms with the realities of his environment, while Parker’s character is somewhat older and all too aware of the injustices faced because of the colour of their skin.

The extras include deleted scenes that are not missed and a feature containing interviews with the real-life people on which the film is based. However, an inconsistency is revealed when filmmakers say no ones knows what happened to the man Henry Lowe is based on even though the epilogue writes that he studied theology and became a minister. The second disc explores the elements that make up a period piece, such as music, costumes and design. The most interesting inclusion on this disc is samples of Tolson’s poetry, which is powerful and insightful.

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