Movie Review: The Great Debators

“The Great Debaters” gets a two star rating out of a possible five stars in the Shotgun movie scale. 


It is a very insulting movie, (to me anyway.)  I don’t say that lightly either.  It was with great restraint that I swallowed the harsh emotional reactions brought on by this piece of propaganda and raised it from a zero, to a two star rating.


I’m sure those of you who have grown up in this postmodern, secular progressive age of political correctness, find it hard to believe that there are some of us left in the world who have not accepted the view of history that has been pushed on us from an early age. 


I have a very vibrant memory from the first grade.   


We were being taught about Martin Luther King Jr., and the civil rights movement.  Oh how wonderful it all certainly was.  Right verses wrong, good against evil, the oppressed working against the odds to overthrow their oppressors, everyone holding hands and singing, “We shall overcome,” oh what a beautiful picture!   


Beautiful that was, until some of us innocent first graders decided to color the men in our “civil rights” coloring books, with black crayons.  Who could blame us? We called them black men, why not color them black?


I’ll never forget having my coloring book ripped from me, and a new one set before me. As if such physical action from a teacher wasn’t shocking enough, I had a brown crayon pushed into my hands, and both the teacher, and her assistant, (who was a heavyset black woman,) berated me for my choice of color, and insisted that I re-color all of my pictures according to their will.  This is no over exaggeration, they were both literally standing over my little desk, and in very loud, forceful language, demanding that I re-color my images.  They demanded that I concede to the black individuals represented in the book, a higher status than I otherwise would have.


Thus, I had my first memorable introduction to indoctrination.   


Of course, I had no idea at the time what was being done to us.  It was my senior year in high school before I even realized something WAS happening.  It has taken me until now to be able to realize it, articulate it, and understand that it has been happening since the fall of man.   


It is a war that we’re in, a war that is being waged in the high places.  This is a war of worldviews.   


The Critique:

I’m no history expert and so I cannot in one article give due attention to refuting the false view of history presented in this movie.  I can only give my opinion that such is the case, present a few examples of propaganda that I found very insulting, and then discuss how the movie concentrates on the promotion of this view, to the detriment of its (presumably) good overall intent. 


I hope also to present a more Christ like way of viewing history, even if I don’t have the space or knowledge at present to fully explain it.  For further reading on this concept to get an idea about where I’m coming from, read the book, “Foundations of Christian Scholarship” specifically paying attention to the essay about history by C. Greg Singer, and the one called, “Epistemological Crisis of American Universities” by Gary North.  Also, a much shorter and more accessible article here: by Steve Wilkins is excellent!


The Good Intent Which Earned Two Stars

I can tell that the makers of this movie had good intentions.  I know Oprah Winfrey had a hand in the production, and I think Denzel Washington directed it, (as well as played the role of the debate coach in the film.) It seems they wanted to motivate young black Americans to action in all fields of academia to the betterment of themselves, by glamorizing the art of debate.


The story is about a small black college in Texas in the thirties, (or maybe it was the twenties?) The real civil rights movement was not really moving yet.  A teacher (Denzel Washington) forms a debate team, and ultimately chooses a predictable cast of characters, including a 14 year old genius, the hot but shy girl, and the angry, violent, yet sensitive smart guy.   


This team does battle with all the surrounding colleges, and defeats them all, drawing attention to themselves in the process.  They soon find themselves facing off against the Harvard debate team, which is historical, since the evil white empire has never allowed such a thing to happen before. 


Jesus Christ says in Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and ye shall find, knock and the door will be opened.” 


I am glad that this movie glamorizes the art of debate, and emphasizes the intellect.  I hope that it stimulates young black Americans to study, and find themselves worthy before God. I hope they ask, seek, and knock.  If they truly seek, I believe that they can break out of the bonds that this false worldview has on many of them.  It is this glamorization that earns the movie two stars.   


On the Downside:


It will be difficult to properly develop a good Christian view of history, taking into account Gods divine providence, and His miraculous working, if you start out with such a biased and hate filled worldview.   


This is why I believe that the force of the filmmaker’s good intentions is dulled by the worldview from which they display.  They essentially want to challenge young black people to debate, and intellectually challenge the very foundations of what our free Christian society is based on. 


In the film, Denzel Washington’s character is a communist, supporting labor unions among the poor farmers, also, some of the debate topics give away the foundations of the worldview as well, especially the supposed final topic to be debated with Harvard, “Is Capitalism Evil,” or some such question.  I can’t remember exactly how it was worded. 


These underlying positions of the “good guys” are given more force, due to the fact that white society at the time is depicted as the epitome of evil.  One scene displayed a small white child at the feet of a lynched black man.  (Lynching, by the way, isn’t a strong enough image anymore, now the bodies are burned AND lynched.)  After witnessing this lynching, the two main characters discuss with each other what white people “do” to Negros in Texas.  “They cut off your ears, your nose, or maybe your penis.”  One of the boys even exclaimed that his grandma used to frighten him with stories about confederate soldiers coming to “get” him if he didn’t’ behave.   


There was also a completely unbelievable scene where two hog farmers demand payment for an accidently killed hog from Forrest Whittaker, who, in front of his family, is forced to humble himself, and pay the two evil white men.   


I find this representation of white southerners to be disgusting, and very insulting.  I feel the same way about the entire view of history promoted in the film.  It promotes an undue feeling of hate and distrust towards white Americans in the minds of the young blacks who see the film.   



Before I conclude I think a quick note should be made about how they really did misrepresent the art of debate.  Debate is an art that has been practiced by many people, and has been perfected by centuries of use.  While in one scene, Denzel Washington DOES mention the word syllogism, he doesn’t do it justice. 


It seems that to the producers of the movie, a good debate is when one side argues their case more passionately than the other.  In the film the pointing out of logical flaws and the subtle nuances of savaging the opponent’s argument is lost somewhere in the emotional frenzy that is whipped up by the content and forceful presentations of the main characters during their debates. 


I don’t fault them too much on this point however, because I can see the difficulties that showing such a thing cinematically would present.  Maybe one day, the more discerning black individual will realize that no matter how emotional his or her presentation may be, it must pass the test of cross examination, the premises must be true, and also support the conclusion! 

When you let your passions overwhelm your thought process in the debate, you’ve already lost. 


This concept was articulated by Denzel Washington, in one of the only truly inspiring parts of the film.  He has his debate team stand on the banks of a river, and recite the Denzel Washington rules for debate.  Unfortunately, I cannot recite them from memory but, I do remember one of the lines.  “My opponent does not exist; he is merely a dissenting voice to the truth that I am speaking.” 


I hope that those of you who would condemn me to Hell for defying the prevailing view of history that was presented in this movie would remember that rule of Denzel Washington, and focus on my arguments, instead of letting your passions rule the tone of your response to me.


God bless

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