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The Great Debaters Review Critics


Dave White Profile

It's predictable. Read full review

Other Critics provided by

Critics scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more favorable reviews.

  • 4.0

    out of 100

    Generally favorable reviews
    based on a weighted average of all
    critic review scores.

  • 100

    out of 100

    Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert

    This is a film that is affirming and inspiring and re-creates the stories of a remarkable team and its coach.

    Read Full Review

  • 63

    out of 100

    USA Today Claudia Puig

    An enjoyable, rousing film, despite its formulaic quality.

    Read Full Review

  • 70

    out of 100

    Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern

    Mr. Washington is splendid, as always. So is Forest Whitaker as James Farmer, Sr.

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  • 70

    out of 100

    The Hollywood Reporter Kirk Honeycutt

    An earnest drama about the search for self-esteem and sense of responsibility among young black people that successfully relies on its fine actors.

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  • 75

    out of 100

    Entertainment Weekly Owen Gleiberman

    The Great Debaters is like one of those sentimentally revved youth-sports-team crowd-pleasers. This time, though, the sport is debating, and the setting is an elite black college in Marshall, Tex., in 1935

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  • 88

    out of 100

    ReelViews James Berardinelli

    Ultimately an uplifting movie because it is about triumph.

    Read Full Review

  • See all The Great Debaters reviews at

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

Pause for kids 12 & under

Inspiring true story confronts racism head-on.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this inspirational fact-based drama includes unvarnished discussions and representations of 1930s racism, including a brutal lynching scene (the victim's body is shown burned and hung). There are also a couple of fight scenes, a confrontation between rural white bullies and an African-American professor, and a scene in which a bloodied, beaten African-American prisoner has been abused by white sheriff. A sex scene is brief and romantic (no graphic images). Language includes repeated uses of "hell" and the "N" word. Some drinking and pipe-smoking.

  • Families can talk about the appeal of movies based on true stories. What can today's viewers learn from seeing a movie like this? What messages do you think the film is hoping audiences will take away? What does this movie have in common with "underdog" sports stories? Families can also discuss how accurate they think the movie is. Why would filmmakers tweak any facts when making a movie based on a true story?

The good stuff
  • message true0

    Messages: Debate team members are mostly determined and noble, though occasionally rebellious and raucous. Racists (including lynching party and the sheriff in Marshall) are especially villainous. Coach is complicated and smart.

What to watch for
  • violence false3

    Violence: A central scene shows a lynching, with a burned, hanged African-American body and white lynchers (including a white child watching, undisturbed); the African-American debate team observes in horror, then drives away afraid. Early violence includes a bar fight. A car hits a hog, leaving it bloody and dead; the white men who own it threaten the African-American driver and his family. James finds Tolson at a union meeting; white men arrive with sticks and farm tools, chasing the farmers away, and Tolson leads James to safety. Prisoner held by sheriff appears with bloody, swollen eye. Henry and James fight briefly (Henry tells him that lynchers "cut your privates off" and "skin you alive").

  • sex false2

    Sex: Henry flirts with a man's wife at a bar; women appear in close-fitting dresses, showing cleavage, sweating, and dancing suggestively. In a later scene, James watches Sam on dance floor and imagines dancing with her and her kissing him (sweetly). On a boat, Sam and Henry kiss; scene dissolves to sex in bed (romantic filtered light and close-ups). Henry kisses a girl he's picked up at a bar in front of Sam (it upsets her).

  • language false2

    Language: Includes several uses of "hell" and the "N" word -- the latter both by racist characters and by Tolson, who uses it repeatedly during one "lesson" directed at Henry. Drunk and upset, Henry sings a song with the chorus "Run, n---er, run."

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not applicable

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false2

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Drinking and drunkenness in bars (Henry is involved in these scenes). Henry, upset by the lynching, goes out drinking and comes home drunk. Tolson smokes a pipe.