After you’ve watched The Great Debaters in its entirety, answer the following questions:
“Debate is combat; your weapons are words.”
The Great Debaters is based on a true story.
- In the film, Dr. Farmer frequently says, “We do what we have to do, so that we can do what we want to do.” How does this apply in the film? How does it apply to your own life? To your larger community?
- The character, Melvin B. Tolson states: “Debate is bloodsport. It’s combat. But, your weapons are words.” Is debate bloodsport? Combat? Are words weapons? Should they be? Explore and explain your reactions to these words.
- Consider the different battles Samantha Booke would have faced being the first woman on the debate team, and, later, as a black female lawyer in 1930s Texas. Can you relate in any way to the difficulties she may have had to live with?
- How would you evaluate the arguments given by the debaters in the final debate? How would their arguments be judged in a debate in today’s world?
- The Great Debaters ends with the debate at Harvard University. Why do think the youngest student, James Farmer, Jr., is so effective in this debate about civil disobedience?
- What claim does James Farmer, Jr. make about the need for civil disobedience?
- What evidence does James Farmer, Jr. use to support his claim?
- Does The Great Debaters illustrate how one must put aside difficulties in one’s life and communicate effectively? If so, how?
- Does the film illustrate that emotion helps or hurts communications?
- What scene in The Great Debaters had the biggest impact on you?