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Quinonez 1 Rily Quinonez Prof. Anita Davis FLM/THEA 1070-006 September 30th 2013 Wiley College V.S.

Oklahoma City College During the early 20th century, although slavery had been long abolished there was still insurmountable prejudice against black Americans in the south. Through the use of the Jims Crow Laws, black Americans were held in the lower castes of society. These laws operated against the constitution on the grounds that that equal rights did not mean co-mingling of the races. (Tafari) In the film The Great Debaters, the Wiley College (a black college) debate team challenges Oklahoma City College in a debate as their first ever debate with a white college. During this scene in the film several period issues are portrayed including segregation and prejudice towards blacks. This Scene opens with one of the lead roles, Samantha Booke played by Jurnee Smollett, walking towards the stage. The camera starts out at her feet and pans up to her face as she approaches the stage. This camera movement is representative of her current feelings pertaining to the situation. She enters with her head down looking at her feet, as we, the audience are as well feeling nervous about the debate soon to begin. Yet, as she approaches the stage she lifts her head, the camera following her movement, to face the crowd and her opponents. At this moment we get our first glimpse of the scenery, which is a large tent, for shade, in a farm field with livestock near by. This scene reinforces how segregation was played out during this time period. Even though the two debating schools were prestigious colleges, because Wiley College was a black college and Oklahoma City College was a white college, blacks were not allowed on Oklahoma campus grounds. Furthermore, not only were

Quinonez 2 they not allowed to enter a white college, but were forced to a local farm to hold their debate. Perhaps this scene taking place on a farm symbolizes how, in a sense, black Americans at the time were treated like livestock, being herded by others and given substandard conditions. The topic of the debate is whether blacks should be admitted to white colleges. During the debate one of the Oklahoma debaters makes the point that although blacks should eventually be admitted to white colleges that time is not now. This statement by Oklahoma City is a perfect example of how the Jim Crow Laws worked. Segregation was at the time unconstitutional, hence, blacks should eventually be admitted, but now is not the time, because under state law a black person could be imprisoned for entering a white college. Wiley Colleges Samantha Booke then rebuts this statement. She goes on to say that when it comes to racial equality the time is, and always will be right now! (The Great Debaters) This part of the scene is incredibly moving and arguably wins the debate for Wiley College. This statement made by Miss Booke can be paralleled to the beginning of the civil rights movement. It was less than thirty years later, in 1963, that Martin Luther King Jr. made his march on Washington to give one the greatest speeches of our time. The Great Debaters is an amazing film depicting the struggles of black Americans in the 1930s through the view of three young debaters in Texas. As the story unfolds in this film, the students making their way to the top by perseverance, courage and skill, so too in the later half of the 20th century does America; as great men step up to make a statement that changes the course of history. Paralleled to the civil rights movement, The Great Debaters shows its audience that people can not be oppressed and that eventually heroes will arise to equal their oppressors, and not through revenge or violence but through civil disobedience.

Quinonez 3 Works Cited Tafari, Tsahai. "Rise and Fall of Jim Crom." Educational Broadcasting Corporation, n.d. Web. 29 Sep 2013. <>. The Great Debaters. Dir. Denzel Washington. Perf. Denzel Washington, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett, Denzel Whitaker. Harpo Films, 2007. Film.