Seeing “The Great Debaters” Like Going to Church in St. Louis’ Chase Park Theater
"Melvin Beaunorus Tolson (February 6, 1898–August 29, 1966) was an American Modernist poet, educator, columnist, and politician. His work concentrated on the experience of African Americans and includes several poetic histories. He was a contemporary of the Harlem Renaissance and, although he was not a participant in it, his work reflects its influences. Liberia declared Tolson as its poet laureate in 1947." Click here to read more about Melvin B. Tolson in Wikipedia.
The lights were off as a couple slid into the theater. I held down the seat next to me and said, "It's just started. You haven't missed too much."
The audience at the Chase Park Cinema for "The Great Debaters" was the most integrated of any I've seen in St. Louis during the six months I've lived here. That was good in itself. But it was like being in church, too. When Samantha reaches the perioration in her debate speech in Okalahoma that "NOW is the time for freedom!" the audience applauded and cheered. When James Farmer Jr. began to tell his deepest truth in the debate at Harvard, an older man behind me whispered, "Tell it. Go on and tell it, son!" When the epigraph notes ran telling us that the bad boy turned preacher, we laughted together, with real joy in a saved soul.
The plot is interwoven like a fine rope. Jim Crow politics in the Texan South, educational challenge, debate as a sports team, union organizing that crosses the color bar, family shame and family pride, community strength...so many themes dodging and weaving as they braid their way around our hearts as we watch and respond to this fine film directed by Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey.
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