Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Movie/DVD Review: The Great Debaters. came up with a list of what they call the "Most Powerful Christians in Hollywood."

Right behind Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington graced the litany. Mr. Washington has been developing an impressive body of work, which he has characterized as his "ministry."

Some might be surprised by Mr. Washington's inclusion in this list given the raw nature of some of his filmic work. Taking a closer look, however, his movies often point to basic morality at the very least, and sometimes, to religiously sophisticated, if not overly Christian themes, such as atonement, propitiation and salvation.

For example, my bro Jonathan Acuff at the oft-hilarious site,, has unpacked the deeply religious or Christian themes lurking in Mr. Washington's Man on Fire. Find his insightful analysis here:

In this review, Mr. Acuff intriguingly and perhaps counter-intuitively posits that Man on Fire exceeds even The Passion of the Christ in evangelistic potential.

This lengthy introduction sets the table for The Great Debaters. This film carries strong moral principles centered around basically standing up for what is right--even at great personal cost.

As the title suggests, it presents a true story about an African-American debate team that went into Harvard to compete... and, well, you figure out the rest. I find fault with this movie, however, because it was not necessary to demonize (just about) every white person in the film.

Moreover, the film suggests, erroneously, that speaking more loudly somehow translates into speaking more eloquently. In one particularly disturbing scene, one contestant essentially screamed her speech--on the verge of tears. Despite this bellicose delivery, one significant line--that has been echoed in the current Presidential campaign--resonates well: "The time for justice is always right now." Indeed.

Despite its flaws, it's worth a viewing on cable or DVD.

The Great Debaters garners a "B."

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