The Great Debaters

2007 PG-13 2h 4m DVD

The Great Debaters

2007 PG-13 2h 4m DVD
  • Overview
  • Details
At all-black Wiley College in 1935, an activist professor pushes his debate team to a level of excellence that nets them a chance to take on Harvard University -- the reigning national champs -- in this inspiring drama based on a true story.
Denzel Washington, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett, Denzel Whitaker, Jermaine Williams, Forest Whitaker, Gina Ravera, John Heard, Kimberly Elise, J.D. Evermore
Denzel Washington
Widescreen 1.85:1
English: Dolby Digital 5.1
PG-13 - Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.
age 13+
Common Sense rating OK for kids 13+
age 13+

Common Sense Note

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.

Sexual Content

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).


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").


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."

Social Behavior

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.


Not applicable

Drugs / Tobacco / Alcohol

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.

  • Age appropriate
  • Not an issue
  • Depends on your child and your family
  • Parents strongly cautioned
  • Not appropriate for kids of the age

This information for parents is provided by Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving kids' media lives.

How it works

  • 1

    Create your list

    Browse from thousands of movies and shows.

  • 2

    Free delivery

    We send out your disc the next business day.

  • 3

    Watch and repeat

    Free returns, plus no due dates or late fees.

Unlimited movies sent to your door, starting at $9.99 a month.