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Still shot from the movie: The Great Debaters.

The Great Debaters

The Great Debaters is based on a true story of Mel Tolson (Denzel Washington), a Texas professor who encourages his African-American students to believe they can take on the world. In 1935, he puts together and coaches a debate team, hoping they can compete against Harvard University in an upcoming championship. Get the movie review and more. »


Overall: B+
Violence: C-
Sexual Content: C
Language: B
Drugs/Alcohol: C
Run Time: 126
Theater Release: 24 Dec 2007
Video Release: 11 Jan 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
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Why Is The Great Debaters Rated PG-13?

This inspirational story of a small black college’s debate team during the 1930s provides a glimpse into African American history during the dark years of the Great Depression. Scenes of violence, torture and prejudice toward black people may be disturbing to viewers, although the film never becomes gratuitous in this area. Men are seen beating others, one man is shown with major injuries to his face, and mobs are depicted chasing men and attempting to lynch them. Perhaps the most violent moment is the explicit depiction of a burning body hung from a cross, including close-ups of the man’s legs. The corpse is also seen falling from the cross to the ground. Sexual content includes an encounter between an unmarried man and woman (embracing and kissing in bed is followed by a scene of them waking up the next morning covered only with bed sheets). Language is limited to mild profanities and a few terms of deity, however racial slurs and derogatory names for African Americans are heard many times (spoken both by blacks and whites). Characters are seen drinking alcohol, some to the point of drunkenness (one man picks a fight with another while they are inebriated). A principle character smokes a pipe.

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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