Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

The REAL Great Debaters

The Real Great Debaters

I did see the Denzel Washington-directed and Oprah Winfrey produced film earlier this year, and, mostly enjoyed it. Although, I went in with lowered expectations, and was prepared to dislike it.

I've grown weary of mawkish historical black dramas which seem to dominate black cinema, especially in recent years, so I went into this one not quite kicking and screaming, but certainly not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and I walked out of the theatre mostly pleased.

The story wasn't one that I was wholly familiar with before seeing the movie, which, naturally, prompted me to do some research of my own.

And finding out that the film I saw was essentially a watered down, sensationalized version of quite a compelling real-life drama left me feeling like I had been suckered by the film and the filmmakers.

Yes, I understand that in this industry, filling seats is what matters most to those spending the money to get these films produced and distributed; however, don't do so at your audience's expense, or, maybe even worse, mislead them with half-truths. Give them the entire picture, not just a fragment of it - especially one that's manipulated for effect.

Given that many likely will never take the initiative to do their own research on the characters and predicament that the film is based on, and will rely entirely on the movie they saw to inform themselves on the subject, I think the filmmakers had an obligation to present each character and story in a manner that's faithful to the real-life characters and story - and not a fictive rendition, whether in part, or whole.

Now available on DVD is the documentary
The Real Great Debaters of Wiley College, a fascinating documentary which, as African American film critic Kam Williams states, "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."

The DVD features archival footage, newspaper accounts and the recollections of friends, family and luminaries, all combined to paint a rich picture of the complete lives of Tolson and his team and, their amazing accomplishment.

I suggest you
pick it up if you haven't already.


  1. Invisible Hand said...

    Amen about black historical movies. I think there should be a moratorium. By now the narrative is too stock, the stories so overtold, that there's nothing fresh. I think it lets people off the hook, too. Making it seems though Hollywood is telling black stories when really they're dwelling in history.

    It'll be interesting to see what happens now that Obama is in the White House. There's been a meme of late that the "Bradley Effect" that didn't apply to Obama no longer applies to movies either. I don't know. I think most audiences, white or black, don't like challenging and/or unfamiliar material. Which brings us right bak to the familiarity of the black period movie.

  2. The Obenson Report said...

    That makes 2 of us on the "Amen about historical movies."

    I don't expect Obama's victor to have much of an impact.

    As you implied, audiences, regardless of race, are divided... there are those who embrace challenging fare, and those purely seeking escape. Of course, there are those of us who live in both worlds.

    Variety is key. We simply don't have it - "black" is still a niche I suppose.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Anonymous said...

    i plan to subscribe to you. i just covered this lack of all the facts in historical cinema thing on my blog. i wasn't impressed with the movie. i was kind of mad that i didnt get to work on it lol being that they shot it a few cities away.
    anyways, i just didn't feel anything from the movie. it wasn't emotional enough for me.

  4. The Obenson Report said...

    MLM - thanks for subscribing.

  5. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    Re the Obama effect... I think we may be in for a couple of black-kid-overcomes-odds-to-attend-ivy-league-college kind of feel good movie. I bet Will Smith is working on one as we speak.

    And how soon before we see Will play Obama? He certainly has the ears for it.

    Didn't see Great Debaters (not sure it was even released over here - though I noticed that The Secret Life of Bees has a limited release). But I would probably see 'Debaters' in the order of documentary and then the drama.

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