1930年代、全米ディベート選手権で優勝したワイリー大学の実話を基にした作品。 人種差別が深く根付いている南部テキサス州の小さな大学で教鞭をとる黒人教師トルソンは、この歪んだ社会を正すには教育しかないという信念からディベートチームを立ち上げる。 生徒たちは、厳しいトルソンの指導の下 実力をつけ、人間としても大きく成長してゆく。言葉という武器で、聴衆の心を揺さぶる素晴らしいディベートと心に残る名台詞で社会問題に鋭くメスを入れ、観る者の心に勇気と感動を与えてくれるお薦めの作品だ。
Inspired by a true story, “The Great Debaters” takes us back to the 1930’s Jim Crow* South in the US. Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington), an ambitious English professor at the segregated black institution of Wiley College in Texas, believes education is the only thing that can help black students to rise above racial and social inequality and make something out of their lives. After a tough screening, Tolson selects a debate team of four and molds the obscure underdog team from the South into national champions through his unrelenting determination to succeed. He teaches his students that the skills they learn through debating are invaluable tools to change and enlighten the world beyond their personal competition. Fueled by his passion, the students tackle various social issues with intelligence and logic, including social justice, civil disobedience and workers’ rights. Their consecutive victories against many institutions culminates in a debate exciting and challenging enough to glue an entire nation to their TV screens: their debate against the Harvard University team.
This movie is not only about underdogs who are inspired to achieve greatness by conquering obstacles, but also about struggling against the deeply ingrained social injustice permeating the South. Tolson, who secretly acts as a labor leader for local farmers, is branded a communist, which gets him incarcerated. On another occasion, James, the youngest member of the team and his family are forced to pay an exorbitant amount of money for accidentally running over a hog. Later on, the entire team comes across the scene of a lynching, from which they narrowly escape their own deaths. Faced with the brutal reality of racism, we cannot help but admire the incredible courage it must have taken the students to continue to stand up for their rights.
I truly enjoyed this movie, because I love both debating and a good uplifting story in which the characters beat the odds through hard work and tenacity. I was especially inspired by Samantha Brooke (Jurnee Smollette), Wiley College’s first woman debater with her great aspiration to become a lawyer. She said with fierce passion, “My weapons are my words. I don’t need a gun. I don’t need a knife.” This comment of hers speaks volumes. If the world put down their arms, and fought with their words as weapons, what a peaceful world we could achieve! Throughout the movie, it is gratifying to see Tolson draws the best out of his students and fuels them to achieve excellence. We learn in the epilog that his students continue to pursue their ambitions, one becomes a lawyer, one a minister, and another becomes one of the most important figures in the civil rights movement in America: testimony that the students took to heart the lessons Tolson instilled in them. Tolson’s strong message to students still lingers in my mind: “My message to you is never quit.” This movie is definitely one of the best movies I have seen of late.
Who is the judge?
The judge is God.
Why is he God?
Because he decides who wins or loses, not my opponent.
Who is your opponent?
He does not exist.
Why does he not exist?
Because he is a mere dissenting voice of the truth I speak!
*Jim Crow Law (ジム・クロウ法):1876年から1964年にかけて存在したアメリカ合衆国南部の州法で、主に黒人とその他有色人種の、一般公共施設の利用を禁止制限した法律を総称していう。
- I come and go whenever it suits me.
- That’s not saying much.
- I made it to the debate team.
- Get to it!
- You stay put.
- Keep at it!
- You put us on the map.
- My phone is ringing off the hook.
- Whatever your instincts tell you, you listen.