On Friday, Feb. 23, students and parents filled J. Crivello Hall for a special screening of the Golden-Globe-nominated film “The Great Debaters” (2007). The screening was held in celebration of Black History Month and was followed by a discussion led by Upper School history teacher Phil Trotter, Parker parent Voltaire Sterling, and cast member Justice Leak.
“The Great Debaters” takes place in 1935 during the Great Depression and the era of Jim Crow. The film stars Denzel Washington as Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at the Historically Black College, Wiley College, in Texas. Tolson assembles a group of promising students and together they start Wiley College’s first debate team. The team succeeds in its competitions and eventually takes on Harvard University’s 47th annual debate team.
“The movie is a period piece that is rich in history, literature, poetry, and imagery,” said Voltaire Sterling. “We were able to draw parallels between the film’s messages encouraging academic excellence and character development and Parker’s credo S.T.R.I.V.E. In fact, during the week that the film was shown, the portion of S.T.R.I.V.E. that the Lower School was focused on was ‘Revere The Truth.’”
Phil Trotter discussed the role of film in helping to shape the narrative in social studies classes.
“Americans learn history, in part, through films. Films can provide students with an emotional connection to events that help develop citizenship skills. Parker upperclassmen watched ‘The Great Debaters’ as Grade 8 students and they can still analyze and discuss aspects of the films as junior and seniors,” Phil said.