The Great Debaters

Synopsis: Marshall, Texas, described by James Farmer, Jr. as "the last city to surrender after the Civil War," is home to Wiley College, where, in 1935-36, inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and his clandestine work as a union organizer, Professor Melvin Tolson coaches the debate team to a nearly-undefeated season that sees the first debate between U.S. students from white and Negro colleges and ends with an invitation to face Harvard University's national champions. The team of four, which includes a female student and a very young James Farmer, is tested in a crucible heated by Jim Crow, sexism, a lynch mob, an arrest and near riot, a love affair, jealousy, and a national radio audience.
Director(s): Denzel Washington
  Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 11 wins & 9 nominations.
126 min


Heavenly Father, we come before Thee,

knee-bent and body-bowed,

in the humblest way that we know how.

Father who controls and knows all things:

Both the living and dying of all creatures.

Give us strength and

wisdom to do Thy work.

In God's name we pray.

Let all Gods people say:


When I was slippin' up, she looked down,

saw the head of something...

...was right there in

her hands.

She told me was a wild animal.

I say then it was Gods revenge.

You go heathen, Henry.

You know what I've got right here?


Something very wild

/"When I was a child, I spake as a child,

/I understood as a child,

/I thought as a child.

/But when I became a man,

/I put away all childish things."

(1Cor 13:
11. KJV)

/Freshman Class,

/I believe we are the most

/privileged people in America.

/Because we have the

/most important job...

/in America.

/The education of our young people.


Who the hell is he?

Just my husband.

I'm gonna cut your head off.

/We must impress upon our young people.

/That there will be

/difficulties that they face.

You're scared, ain't you?

You do raise

and twice my size?

/They must defeat them.

/They must do what

/they have to do...

/ order to do what they want to do.

/Education is the only way out.

Get up, get up, baby, come on.

/The way out of ignorance.

Like cut people? Home boy?

Want to cut people, Trudell, uhm?

Get your hands off me!

The way out of darkness

Into the glorious light.


Come on, give me back,

come on, give me back.

- "To precious Hamilton."

- This is not fun.

Give me back.

Have a seat.

/I am...

/...the darker brother.

/They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes.

/But I laugh, and eat well,

and grow strong.

/Tomorrow I'll sit at the table

When company comes.

/Nobody'll dare say to me,

"Eat in the kitchen", then.

/Besides, they'll see how beautiful I am

/And be ashamed, --

/I, too, am America.

(I, Too)

Who wrote that?

Langston Hughes, 1924.

/Hating you shall be a game...

/played with cool hands...

bR E V O L U T I O N/b

/Memory will lay its hands...

/upon your breast.

/And you will understand my hatred.


Gwendolyn Bennett wrote that.

She was born in 1902.


You see in most states...

negroes were denied

birth certificate.

which means I can lie about my

age for the rest of my life.

You think that's funny?

To be born without record.

Mr. Reed, hand this up.

I'm going to introduce you

to some new voices this semester

There is revolution going on in the north.

In Harlem, they're changing the way...

negroes in America think.

I am talking about poets like

Hughes, Bennett,

Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen.

/Some are teethed on a silver spoon,

with the stars strung for a rattle.

/I cut my teeth as the black raccoon...

/...for implements of battle.

(C. Cullen:
Saturday's Child)

Meet me after class.

What's a professor doing

in the middle of the night,

dressed like a corn-chopper?

What is a student doing

in the middle of the night, throwing his life away?

It's funny, I thought

I was defeating myself.

I remember you.

Couple years ago

but you disappeared.

What happened?

I come and go, whatever it suits me.

- Suspension?

- Leaves of absents.

Why did you come back?

School is the only place

where you can read all day.

Except prison.

I want you to come

by my house tonight 7:30.

Corner of Junho Campos.

Why would I do that?

Holding try-outs for

the debate team.

You're sure you want somebody like me?

No, that's why you're trying out.

/"...driven by the wind and tossed..."

(Eph 4:

Do well tonight, Junior.

/Of the 360 students here

/at Wiley College.

/Only 45 of you were

/brave enough...

/to try out for the debate team.

/Of that 45 only 4 be who'll remain

standing when the tryouts are over.

/Why? Because debate

/is blood sport.

It's combat, but your weapons are words.

Come on in. Now that Mr. Farmer

has joined us, we can begin.

Sit down, Mr. Farmer.

Not right there, over there.

James, come this way!

- Good evening Mrs. Tolson.

- Good evening.

- We're waiting for you Mr. Farmer.

- I'm going, sir.

Thank you, Mr. Farmer.

You smell very good, Mr. Farmer.

- Thank you, sir.

- You're very welcome.

Gentelmen and Lady!

This is the hot...

You will enter it at your own risk.

Mr Tolson, what about debaters

from last year?

Don't ask a question you

already know the answer to.

Get up, you will be first.

You, right here in the hotspot.

Debate starts with a proposition,

with an idea, resolved.

Child labor should be regulated

by the Federal Goverment.

The first debater

argues the affirmative.

Affirmative means that you afford something.

Mr. Reed will argue affirmative,

the second debater argues the negative.

- Negative means that you are what?

- Against.

Brilliant, Mr. Burgess.

You shall argue the affirmative,

Mr. Reed, go.

Well, sir I begin with a quote

from the poet Cleghorn.

/"The golf links lie so near the mill...

/That almost every day

the laboring children can look out and...

/- And...

- And watch the man at play? (Sarah Cleghorn)

It that what you learned

from last year, Mr. Reed?

To start something and not finish it, is it?

- No sir.

- Sit down.

Who's next?

You, stand up, stand up.

Is getting late, how much longer can you hide?

I'm not hiding, sir.

I transfered from my college

just to come and try out of your team.

I am deeply moved.

What's your name?

- Samantha Booke.

- Booke?

- With an "e".

- Arise Miss Booke with an "e".

Into the hotspot

Miss Booke with an "e".

You know there's never been a female

on the debating team, ever?

Yes, sir. I know that.

What makes you think

you should be the first?

- Because I am just as qualified as...

- Withstanding Miss Booke.

-...anybody else. My gender has nothing...

- Resolved.


discourages hard work.

- You're logging the negative.

- All right.

Walfare takes away a man

strongest reason for working...

Which is survival.

And that weakness the will of the poor.

How do you rebut that, Miss Booke with "e"?

I would say it does not.

Most of the new deal goes to

children anyway and to the handicapped...

- ...and to old people.

- Is it a fact or conjecture?

- It is a fact.

- Speak up.

- It is a fact.

- What's your source?

- The President.

- Of the United States?

Yes, sir.

That's your primary source?

You spoke to president

Roosevelt personally?

Of course not. I did not speak to him personally.

But I listen to his "Fire Side Chat".

- A radio broadcast?

- Yes.

Any other sources?

Any other sources?

Yes, there are other sources...

Like that looking at a mother's eyes

when she can't feed her kids.

Without welfare, Mr. Tolson,

people would be starving.

- Who is starving, Miss Booke?

- The unemployed are starving.

Mr. Burgess here, he is unemployed

obviously he's not starving.

I drew you in, Miss Booke.

You gave a faulty premise,

Rate this script:4.5 / 30 votes

Robert Eisele

All Robert Eisele scripts | Robert Eisele Scripts

0 fans

Submitted on August 05, 2018

Discuss this script with the community:



    Translate and read this script in other languages:

    Select another language:

    • - Select -
    • 简体中文 (Chinese - Simplified)
    • 繁體中文 (Chinese - Traditional)
    • Español (Spanish)
    • Esperanto (Esperanto)
    • 日本語 (Japanese)
    • Português (Portuguese)
    • Deutsch (German)
    • العربية (Arabic)
    • Français (French)
    • Русский (Russian)
    • ಕನ್ನಡ (Kannada)
    • 한국어 (Korean)
    • עברית (Hebrew)
    • Gaeilge (Irish)
    • Українська (Ukrainian)
    • اردو (Urdu)
    • Magyar (Hungarian)
    • मानक हिन्दी (Hindi)
    • Indonesia (Indonesian)
    • Italiano (Italian)
    • தமிழ் (Tamil)
    • Türkçe (Turkish)
    • తెలుగు (Telugu)
    • ภาษาไทย (Thai)
    • Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)
    • Čeština (Czech)
    • Polski (Polish)
    • Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian)
    • Românește (Romanian)
    • Nederlands (Dutch)
    • Ελληνικά (Greek)
    • Latinum (Latin)
    • Svenska (Swedish)
    • Dansk (Danish)
    • Suomi (Finnish)
    • فارسی (Persian)
    • ייִדיש (Yiddish)
    • հայերեն (Armenian)
    • Norsk (Norwegian)
    • English (English)


    Use the citation below to add this screenplay to your bibliography:


    "The Great Debaters" STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 13 Jul 2024. <>.

    We need you!

    Help us build the largest writers community and scripts collection on the web!


    The Studio:

    ScreenWriting Tool

    Write your screenplay and focus on the story with many helpful features.


    Are you a screenwriting master?

    Who played the character "Wolverine" in the "X-Men" series?
    A Robert Downey Jr.
    B Ryan Reynolds
    C Hugh Jackman
    D Chris Hemsworth