Racism regularly challenges us in our modern society but recently it has emerged with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. This prompts me to present a film, “The Great Debaters” as an example of a group of people who, despite beliefs to the contrary, demonstrated that black lives do, indeed, matter and that their lives are as valuable as all other human life.
Living in the deep-south, in the era of the Great Depression, these black youngsters shared a vision for their future which did not include inferiority of any kind. They believed that all were equal and worthy of fair treatment. A famous paraphrase of the words of St Augustine of Hippo were quoted several times, “An unjust law is no law at all”.
“The Great Debaters” explores attitudes towards black people in Texas and includes emotive scenes, such as insults, exclusion and even lynching. Undeterred by this, the debating society of Wiley College, an exclusively black establishment, decided that they would dare to compete in a debate with while people – something hitherto unheard of. Tutored by Melvin B Tolson, played by Denzel Washington, they rose from sheer hard work and dedication to the best debating team, finally defeating the champions at Harvard University.
This film, based on a true story, has slight changes. For example, this group from Wiley College finally challenged and defeated the University of Southern California, the reigning champions at the time, rather than Harvard. Their success however did not entitled them to become members of the debating society as blacks were not admitted until after World War II.
Although it is hard to watch at times, with heart rendering scenes of lynching and abuse, this film will encourage all who value the equality of all human beings. The group from Wiley College demonstrated commitment, determination and hard work. They also displayed an attitude which is inherently Godly. For rather than meeting aggression with aggression, these youngsters sought to promote the downtrodden in a dignified and respectful way. Something to be said for the quality of forgiveness!