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Nate Parker on The Great Debaters

Published January 2, 2008 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of TWC.
The Great Debaters The Great Debaters
Actors are good at saying their lines, but debating is a higher level. To play the Wiley College debate team, the stars of The Great Debaters had to go to a verbal boot camp. Nate Parker plays team star Henry Lowe, so he described the debate camp.

Parker on The Great Debaters

"We arrived, we learned all about parliamentary and impromptu debate," said Parker. "We got to Texas Southern University and they took us through and gave us a crash course, said we should be more persuasive being actors. So the first day we learned debate and the second day we broke into teams and we debated, and the morning of we were watching CNN and MSNBC and reading the Wall Street Journal. So we took it very seriously and we defeated their freshman/sophomore team. It paid off."

That was a big fete. In the movie, they didn't have to make up their own lines. "Any time you're going to be able to stand up in front of people and speak passionately about something, it helps for you to know what you're talking about. That's what helped us in the film. You see the film and you see these speeches that were of course written by someone else, but we studied and we researched all the details behind those speeches so we could be passionate, so they meant something to us so that we could be believable."

There were more details of the 1930s that Parker had to take into his performance. "It was a task, as a black man in American in 1935, to be compromised every day, to have to say ‘Yes, suh’ instead of ‘yes sir’, to dumb yourself down in fear that you may be lynched, hung by your neck, dragged down the street without justice. It was a task to take on that as a character. What it did was create a turmoil inside of the character. Here you have a man that is very strong. Born in 2007, he could be Obama. He was very intelligent but, in the period that he was born, he was put in a place where he’d be walking on the sidewalk and if an eight-year-old Caucasian boy was walking down the street, he’d have to get off the sidewalk. There’s something to be said about having to literally compromise yourself every single day, no matter how much you know. You can read a thousand books but when you see a young white boy that says ‘hi’, you have to say ‘hi, suh.' It was just a task to take on that burden, to take all that in and make myself vulnerable to it and allow that turmoil to come out on screen."

Hopefully, the film will inspire today's youth. "We had a screening a couple of nights ago and a young man stood up, maybe about 13 or 14, and he expressed what the film meant to him and how different than just the parents saying, 'Education is power, you need to go to college.' He said that something clicked inside of him where he saw how we were confusing people with our words and how the progress we gained because of the things that came out of our mouth. That really hit me, so if there's a suggestion I can make, it's that everyone encourage their kids, everyone should see this film because it speaks to these kids that it is important. Education is the key, it's the way out, that they can define their environment, elements of their environment, by simply picking up the book."

The Great Debaters is out in theaters now.

For the trailer, posters, review and more movie info, go to The Great Debaters Movie Page.

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Compiled By (Sources)
Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of TWC.

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