Monday, December 31, 2007


Drama based on a true story

Melvin Beaunorus Tolson (February 1898 – August 1966) was an American poet, educator, columnist, labour activist and politician. Born in Moberly, Missouri he was the son of a Methodist minister. He graduated with honours from Lincoln University in 1924 and moved to Texas to teach speech and English at Wiley College.

James Leonard Farmer (June 1886 – May 1961) was an American author, theologian and educator. In 1918 he earned his doctorate and became one of only twenty-five African-American’s who held a Ph. D. at that time. He served as a deacon in the Methodist Episcopal Church and an administrator at several black colleges and universities. He could read Aramaic, French, German, Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

Wiley College, founded in 1873, is a four-year, privately supported university located in Marshall, Texas. It holds the distinction as being one of the oldest historically black colleges west of the Mississippi River.

In the fall of 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Governor of New York, was elected President of the United States. In his inaugural speech, he addressed the problems of the depression by telling the American people that, "I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people." The New Deal was based on the assumption that the power of the federal government was needed to get the country out of the depression. The first days of Roosevelt's administration saw the passage of banking reform laws, emergency relief programs, work relief programs, and agricultural programs. Dozens of alphabet agencies (so called because of their acronyms, such as SEC for the Securities and Exchange Commission, WPA for the Works Progress Administration etc.) were created as a result of his initiatives.

Sharecropper: a tenant farmer who gives a share of the crops raised to the landlord in lieu of rent.

The American Federation of Labor was one of the first federations of labour unions in the United States. Founded in 1886, the AFL was the largest union grouping in the USA for the first half of the twentieth century.

Denzel Washington: Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College
Forest Whitaker: Wiley College adminstrator and preacher James Farmer, Sr.
Nate Parker: Henry Lowe, one of the four team members
Jermaine Williams: Hamilton Burgess, a superb debater
Denzel Whitaker: the team’s precocious 14-year-old researcher James Farmer Jr.
Jurnee Smollett: the team’s substitute Samantha Booke

As the end credits rolled, spontaneous clapping broke out; to my mind this is the finest accolade any audience can give a movie.

But you wouldn’t figure on that right from the beginning: for the first ten minutes or so there are a variety of vignettes that do not seem to have any connection. Then gradually things come together and it all makes sense. What a wonderful start.

The balance of the movie is equally refreshing with excellent performances, superb cinematography, a great musical score and a well-written story. In fact there are several stories, that of the debating team and their efforts to succeed and some graphic examples of the racism that pervaded the times.

Despite a running time of two hours, it does not seem that long.

for depiction of strong thematic material including violence and disturbing images, and for language and brief sexuality.

Try as I might, everything checked out perfectly. Even the flag hanging in the hall where the final debate was held is historically correct for the period. You do not see that attention to detail frequently enough. Drats!

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