"Majorities do not decide what is right or what is wrong," Samantha says during an impassioned speech. "Your conscience does." That speech and this film are ringing rejections of relativism and eloquent defenses of the idea that there is such a thing as right and wrong—and that we can all know the difference if only we have the education to see it and the courage to look for it.
Tolson and James' father, James Farmer Sr., are two righteous-minded men with a passion for education but a different understanding of how one must address the evils of the day. Tolson tries to salve poverty by organizing the region's sharecroppers into a union. He tells his students how lynching didn't just kill the victim: It cowed black America into a state of working subservience. "Keep the body," he says. "Take the mind." Debate, Tolson believes, is the way to give his young charges back their minds—a way to empower them to both think for themselves and defend their ideals. "Education is the only way out," he says.
The elder James would agree with most of that. What he doesn't approve of are Tolson's politics, and he tells the instructor he doesn't want his son "corrupted" by their influence. A minister and professor at Wiley, Farmer Sr. speaks seven languages and is far more educated than the local white farmers who call him "boy." He puts up with it for the most part—much to his son's chagrin—but when Tolson is thrown in prison for his union activities, Farmer Sr. comes to his aid, confronting the sheriff. He quotes St. Augustine: "An unjust law is no law at all."
The debaters, meanwhile, uneasily navigate their way between right and wrong. Henry, for instance, has a penchant for sneaking off to speakeasies and one-night stands when the going gets tough, but in the end the debater sacrificially relinquishes his spot in the climactic debate to make room for James.
Young James soaks up the influences around him as he feels his way to manhood. He wants desperately to please his somewhat distant father, and he finds a new connection with him when Dad stands up for Tolson. When a drunken and unfaithful Henry unwisely decides he wants to talk to Samantha (his girlfriend), James restrains him, first verbally, then physically.
A prickly ethical dilemma confronts James after he promises Tolson that he will guard an important secret: When the elder James asks him, in essence, to reveal it because he's worried that James is in some sort of trouble—or into some sort of mischief—James' first inclination is to, unfortunately, lie. He's quickly caught in it. And he then finds the higher moral ground and says, simply, that he's very sorry but he can't talk about it.
(Families will surely disagree about whether the situation is successfully or rightly handled onscreen. And that may be a good thing in this case. Because how teens interact with their parents when it comes to this sort of thing is an important issue to talk through. And this scene will certainly inspire a talk to two.)
The Great Debaters Essay
"The Great debaters"
This was my second time watching the movie called "The Great debaters," but it seemed like it was my first time since the emotional scenes and the profound aspect of the movie left me amazed and inspired once more. All the characters in the movie had their own moment to shine which makes the movie even greater and while watching, you always wonder what is coming next.
The character I identify with the most is Melvin Tolson, the teacher who assembled his debate team members tactfully and thoroughly. It is certainly not because the character is played by a tremendous actor, the two-time academy award winner, Denzel Washington; it is because Tolson, the character played by Washington, not only recruited these talented young speakers, but he found ways to inspire and energized them to greatness, even to what appears to be impossible to achieve. I believe that is what teaching should be about. Furthermore, the focus of this character on education as an important tool for freedom cannot let you without thinking that school has to be more than passing classes or grading, but a powerful weapon in the hands of whoever possesses it.
The second character that attracted my admiration as a speaker in the movie is Samantha Booke. As blacks were being mistreated and persecuted just for being black, this reality was even worse for black women in Texas. But this fact did not stop Samantha to believe in herself and her ability to be part this debate team. She will be the first woman to be in the Wiley college debate team and when given the chance to debate, she is not shy, but demonstrated a lot of emotions in her speeches, bravery, confidence, and passion.
As I said in my first paragraph, I believe every character in the movie has their moment to show their talents as a speaker. Henry Lowe, played by Nate Parker, performed gracefully in his first debate against. He is very persuasive in his speech, confident, well-prepared, and knowledgeable. He also has a great voice tone. He shows a great deal of...
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