FILM... through our EYES!!!

Here we criticize movies and films in partial fulfillment of the requirements for our film criticism course.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Analysis of Cindy's Note

Posted by Harry Itie

The story is revolves around Cindy Haastrop a spoilt girl from an affluent family who has no choice but to spend her Youth Camp days in Taraba State instead of the Lagos she had been dreaming about. Cindy is forced into teaching at a secondary school in Taraba State as she waits for her redeployment letter. The letter finally arrives but she decides to continue her stay in the school. Despite the fact that she has garnered many enemies due to her proud attitude, Cindy goes about solving the problems of the community and she finally learns that humility pays.

The plot in Cindy’s Note is a linear plot. Here there is a beginning, middle and an end. In Hollywood, it is called Balance, Imbalance, and Balance again. The Balance at the beginning was understated as the entire story was a flashback. The first Balance occurred when Cindy was going to Taraba state to serve in the Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC). The Imbalance part was when her mother called and said that Cindy’s NYSC deployment was delayed. This news dashed Cindy’s hopes as she had to tarry in the village for a while where she had to work as a teacher in a dilapidated secondary school. The final Balance occurred when Cindy came to her senses and decided to change the problems in the village. The Climax in the movie occurred at the point where the man who came to fight for his children in the school fell down and everything slowed down. The Climax was also emphasized when the NYSC Coordinator insulted Cindy and said that she was dating the school Principal.

Love – When Cindy’s boyfriend left, she couldn’t do anything instead she got into series of trouble with the Villagers and the NYSC Coordinator.
Passion for Change – This has two sides, the positive and the negative passion. Negative Passion is seen when Cindy desperately wanted to leave Taraba State, she spoke to the Principal and the NYSC Coordinator in a bad way. We then see the positive passion when she later becomes passionate to change the community where she teaches.

There is only one narrative form as the entire story is a flashback. This forms the title of the movie. The flashback begins when Cindy writes in her diary at the very beginning and this runs throughout to the end of the movie.

Suspense was used when Wilson chased after the thief in the market place and the viewer’s did not know if he was going to catch the thief or not.

Pride – This feeling was passed across to the audience by Cindy who was really proud, rude and resentful.
Pity – This was really felt when Cindy had turned a new leaf by deciding to put her best into the development of the school and its community and the NYSC Coordinator still came and was shouting at her about being the cause for the man’s fall.

There are various causalities in the movie that elicited the various responses as seen in the course of the movie. The major cause that led to the effect trailing through the movie was the fact that Cindy’s mother could not get her a posting to Abuja and she had to go to Taraba State. Cindy’s mother could not get her redeployed so she had to endure everything which was a disaster but later turned out for the better.
Cindy had a terrible attitude problem which came as a result of her spoilt background which caused her rudeness to the NYSC Supervisor. This behavior caused the distrust that the NYSC officials had and she really found it difficult to get them to believe her story.

Cindy’s attitude problem also caused Pauline’s anger when Cindy exclaimed that the accommodation was a hole and she was not going to stay in it.

Ngozi came back to the secondary school where Cindy was teaching because she wanted to get her money from Winston.

Ngozi’s arrival at the camp caused Cindy to buy goods on credit for Wande and this later backfired on Cindy who was later harassed by Ngozi.

Due to Cindy’s hot tempered and selfish nature, she dragged Wande back to the class because Wande hit her. This action caused Cindy the hatred of the English teacher.

Some recurrent features in the movie include the following:
The blowing of the whistle at the NYSC orientation camp
The continuous grammatical blunders by Mr. Kyafa. These laughter evoking blunders include; “I am a qualified teachers”, “What has you got to do with that?” and “Can I has word with you?”
Also, Wande’s constant unhappy look and occasional shedding of tears until she became very good friends with Cindy which seemed to make her happier.
There was a statement by Cindy about the three sets of people in life; the first who see a problem and walk away, the second who see a problem and talk but do nothing about it and the third who actually do something. This was repeated by Wilson at the end of the movie.
Under this, the first difference is reflected in the principal’s initial behaviour towards Cindy and his later acceptance of her person.
Also the people of Use community who were vehemently against the change Cindy was trying to introduce later embraced her which was a monumental change and a conspicuous difference.
The behaviour of the two corpers was in direct contrast. One was thirsty for change while the other was indifferent.

HAND-HELD CAMERA: Jagged pulsating shots were used when corpers were doing the fitness drills at the camp. Also, when the boys were fighting in class the camera was hand-held.
CLOSE-UP SHOT: This shot was used several times in the movie. An example was when Cindy was trying to stop the boy who tried to walk out on her. Also this shot was used when Wande was crying.
LONG SHOT: This was used most times in the movie.
The grassy and sandy area as well as the herd of cattle that were shown helped to depict that the movie the setting was actually the Northern part of Nigeria.
The broken glass door at the school depicted a dilapidated school. The principal was also drinking “Kunu”, a traditional Northern drink. The principal’s beetle car portrayed the low social status in Use community.
If one wants to go far, you don’t claim to go too far too early because what takes a person far is knowledge. Cindy felt she knew everything and never thought clearly until she was brought down. In conclusion, the movie is didactic as it focuses on teaching a lot of morals.

A film by Denzel Washington
Cast: Denzel Washington
Forest Whitaker
Nate Parker
Denzel Whitaker
Jurnee Smollett
Kimberly Elise

Produced in 2007 by Oprah Winfrey

The movie is based on a true story and it follows the life Melvin B. Tolson (Washington) who happens to be a professor at Wiley College. He started a debate team that will show that black students can also be considered as good as the white students in Southern America. During this period, the laws of the land posed the black people as inferior to the white people.

The movie starts with Mr. Tolson gathering the debate team and he uses unconventional methods to train his team. Soon his dream team consisting of two guys and a girl are currently wining debates against other Black colleges throughout the country. Soon he begins to write to some white universities (Harvard included) to try to secure a debate with one of them. He succeeds and his team continues to go undefeated.

A twist in the plot is that, at nights, Tolson spends his time leading a revolution of farmers who are against segregation. He is even arrested at first but is bailed out by James Farmer Sr. (Whitaker). Soon, his team secures a debate with Harvard University but he couldn't go with them due to the conditions of his bail. They go to Boston and win the debate against the university.

The movie was based on the true story of Professor Tolson who in 1935 led the Wiley Debate Team to the national championship to defeat the University of Southern California before an audience of a thousand and a hundred people. Although, some parts of the story were changed, the movie still celebrates change and a struggle for freedom and equality.

If there is anything I love about the movie, it is the way the literary and historical references in the speeches of Tolsons' debate team show astounding erudition and the way their voices are very audible.

I think the major theme in this movie is that of "Racial Equality" and also The Struggle for the Emancipation of the Black Man". We see Mr. Tolson going to major lengths to see that his team comes out victorious. His actions are in line with the famous Martin Luther King Jnr. speech which says that "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Mr. Tolson made sure that he broke all form of racial stereotypes through his debate team and with his work with the farmers association. The paraphrasing of the famous saying of Augustine of Hippo “An unjust law is no law at all" buttresses the point.

The movie is set in 20th Century America in 1930s Texas where racism was at its peak. It is set long before the Civil Rights Movement in the segregated south. The movie does a good job in highlighting the problem of racism. The scenery was perfect and the costumes were on point. There was a time when the professor and his team were on their way to a debate meet and they saw a black man being lynched. It was a horrible experience for them. I think that the setting for the movie was amazing.

The debate team symbolizes the plight of every African American who grew up during this period. There are also symbols of hatred for blacks like when James Farmer Sr. was humiliated by a white man in front of his family or when Mr. Tolson and his team came across a man who was lynched by an angry mob of white men.

The movie has an outstanding cinematography and so many shots were used in the movie. There were lot of close-up shots and medium shots especially during the debate sessions. There were also tracking shots. They also made use of the extreme long shot when Mr. Tolson walked into the hall at Harvard and was watching his team debate against the University team.

The movie “Great Debaters” is a true-life story of a group of people from Wiley College, Texas that changed lives by their debates. This story is set in the twentieth century precisely 1935 and is aimed at portraying the ills of the society at the time. It is also about the fight for equality between the blacks and white especially for mixed schools that is, blacks and whites learning together. It shows the passion that was involved in the fight and mirrors the society.

The movie moves on from one point of suspense to another and finally hits a wonderful climax. The movie was produced by Oprah Winfrey studios known as Harpo and she was one of the financiers and also one of the producers. The actors were mainly black people and the movie had a field of talented stars and upcoming stars involved in the work. The actors and actresses were Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett, Denzel Whitaker, Jermaine Williams, Gina Ravera, John Heard, and Kimberly Elise among others.

The movie is analysed below into various categories-:
Themes: this is the central idea behind the movie. There are various themes found in this movie like Determination, Fight for equality between blacks and white, Courage, Passion for a change in society, Civil Disobedience, etc. the necessary themes would be analysed.
a. Fight for equality between blacks and whites-: this was the main theme in the film and it was obvious all through even when the debaters from Wiley College were having debates with their fellow black they always related the topic to inequality and social injustice displayed towards the black people.
b. Passion for a change in the society-: the debaters had a passion and zeal to see a better America with mixed schools and where blacks were not killed because they were just black. This was shown by Samantha Booke when she was debating and crying and stomping her feet. Also, the passionate appeal that characterized Henry Lowe’s speech each time he took the floor. James Farmer Jnr. Also displayed this in his final debate in Harvard.

Narratives-: the movie embedded two narratives in one; this is their debates and their personal lives. This was displayed at the beginning of the movie where each of them was shown, James in church, Henry in a club of some sort and Samantha in a bus. Also, the movie cheated the viewer’s expectation by Samantha and Henry breaking up and unable to work out their differences. Additionally, the fact that Samantha did not end up with James Farmer that liked her was a cheated expectation. The fact that Hamilton had to leave the group was a cheated expectation. The movie also made the viewer’s presume or infer that Henry Lowe and Samantha settled their scores and could move on as friends after their relationship went sour. Also, “we do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do” was said in the movie that inferred that it has been used between the Farmers father and son time and again

Emotions and feelings-: “Great Debaters” portrayed a lot of feelings like love, passion, zeal, anger, desperation and a host of others.
a. Love was displayed by Samantha and Henry, they grew fond of each other very quickly from the point of their supposed date in the boat henceforth. Also, James liked Samantha a lot this was the reason he was upset when Henry slept with her. Mr. Tolson and his wife were portrayed as very close and trusting of each other. Love was displayed in the close-knit family of the Farmers.
b. Passion and zeal: this was shown when each of the debaters took the stage. Also, the passion, Mr. Tolson, had for the change in the society led him on to teach and debate.
c. Anger: James Jnr. was shown angry at various points in the movie, some instances are when Henry slept with Samantha, when Henry cheated on Samantha and when the White man asked his father to pay for the pig. His father was shown angry when he got back home and refused to state where he was coming from.
d. Desperation: this was shown when the debaters and Mr. Tolson were travelling and met a lynch mob. Also, when the police attacked the sharecroppers.

Cause and Effect-: the background of Mr. Tolson especially his father’s experience shaped him into becoming hardened and determined to effect change. Also, the background of Henry Lowe that is, living alone without parents and no one to look after him made him become independent, self-reliant and unable to trust. The lynching mob experience made James Jnr. lose the debate because he was still shaken and that experience also made him win the Harvard debate.

Similarity and Repetition-: there were words and phrases that were repeated all over the movie like “resolved” it was said before the debates began and when Samantha slapped Henry. Also, “an unjust law is no law at all” was said by James Snr. and later repeated by James Jnr. in the debate with Harvard. Also, there was a statement that Mr. Tolson taught the four debaters which is:
Who is the Judge? The judge is God? And why is it God? Because he decides who wins or loses not my opponent And who is your opponent? He doesn’t exist And why doesn’t he exist? Because he is the mute dissenting voice to the truth that I speak Speak the truth
They repeated this statement before they went for the debate against Harvard. There was a similarity between characters and that is Henry Lowe and Mr. Tolson; they are both domineering, decisive, thorough, hard workers, passionate, poets and readers.

Differences and Variation: the debaters went to debate basically because they had a passion for it, winning was an extra addition. Also, Henry Lowe’s behavior varies from the rest of the team who are emotional, he is focused. This was shown in the scene were Samantha and James Jnr. arrived at Harvard while everyone is jumping about at the stage he goes straight to the cup. Furthermore, he shows a variance when despite his hardened front; he still has tears in his eyes while reconciling with his team mates.

Depth of Story treatment: it was obvious that James Farmer was still thinking about the lynching incidence while in the debate and that is why he could not speak. It was also obvious that he was thinking about the lynching incidence in Harvard but was relating to it instead. Also, during the party, the viewers were taken into his mind when he was imagining himself dancing, twining and kissing Samantha. This further proved to the audience the depth of his affections towards her.

Function of Element/ Motif-: each of the debates was a satirical topic on the society. They show the social vices that were against the black people at that time. The debates were a means of seeking for solutions to alleviate the problems in the society. This movie shows that experiences shape a person and determines who the person is or turns out to be. This is seen in the instances of Mr. Tolson and Henry Lowe. It emphasizes the need for a close-knit family as James Farmer had a support to run home to when things go wrong.

Cinematography-: there were several camera shots used in the movie like Crane shot, high angle, point of view, etc.

a. Crane shot: it was used at the beginning of the movie to familiarize the audience with the environment before it takes them to the main scene.
b. High Angle shot: it was used during the Harvard debate to show Mr. Tolson.
c. Close-up shot: was used during James Jnr. first debate that he could not speak, the camera zoomed in on his face to show him sweating.
d. Point of View: when Henry was climbing the Harvard stage and looking at the cup, the camera showed the cup to let the viewers’ see what he was looking at.

Suspense-: this movie was suspense-packed all through, from the beginning till the end, it left the viewers’ anticipating more and cheating their expectations. There were so many scenes that were filled with suspense, for instance, when the Harvard debate scores was to be called out. When the debaters disagreed before the debate, when James Jnr. was supposed to speak for the Harvard debate, the fight between Henry Lowe and the big man at the beginning, when the Police officers attacked the sharecroppers, when James Snr. hit the white man’s pig, when Mr. Tolson was arrested and many more.

Mis en scene-:  this element explains certain necessary features in the movie and how they were explained:

a. The setting in this movie is Jim Crow South in Marshall, Texas. This was a place where lynching was common in the twentieth century when racial discrimination was still common. It was therefore a surprise that a small all-black College, that is, Wiley College could achieve such a feat by defeating all the other debate teams in the region and beyond.
b. The colour of the movie was very dull. Although, it was not black and white but the movie was not colourful. It went on to display the old times with the way the colour of the movie was portrayed.
c. Behaviour of characters: each character fitted into his/her role/, all of them were emotionally in tune with their roles and assumed it with ease. It makes it difficult to believe that they have normal lives asides the role of the characters each portrayed.
d. Lighting: the lights used in the movie adapted well into the various scenes that it entailed. The scene where the sharecroppers were caught having a union meeting, back light was used to cast shadows and to make the place look dim-litted.
e. Costumes: the costumes did not suit their status as we were made to believe that they were just managing, when Dr. Farmers’ wife told him they really needed the seventeen dollars he was given to the pig farmer, but all through the movie they dressed too classy for what we were made to believe. However, when Mr Tolson went to the club and to a meeting with the sharecroppers, the clothes he wore described the kind of places he was going to.

Evaluation-: the movie made use of all the necessary elements to form a heart-wrenching movie. The movie touches the hearts of everyone that watches it and is certainly not one to be forgotten in a hurry. The movie title captures the soul of this movie as it centers on the debates and the people involved in this debate. Generally, I believe the actors and actresses did a good job in highlighting the purpose of the movie. Although, there were certain errors in the movie, it can be forgiven because of the fantastic display of the Great Debaters.

In conclusion, the Great Debaters is a must-watch and must-have movie by anybody who wants a societal change and is willing to pay for the uprise of the society. It is a touching movie as it takes you through the rigors, sorrow, happiness of the debaters and those who matter to them.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Igwe Chigemezu's Analysis of The Great Debaters

Posted by Harry Itie


Being a Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up with clouds of inferiority in their mental skies. It means having your legs cut off, and then being condemned for being a cripple. There is no plausible explanation as to the reason why man has become beast to his fellow man, killing and tearing him apart for sport, pleasure or even no reason at all. Thus, the black people are killed for no other cause than the fact that they were created black by a creator whom they had never seen before. It is this barbaric segregation based on race and colour that Denzel Washington seeks to explore in the film; The Great Debaters.

Inspired by a true story, ‘the Great debaters’ archives the rise of a struggling debate team in Wiley College which was one of the few black colleges in 1930s Texas. The focus of the story is the group of young students who are screened and trained for the debate team, under the guidance of enigmatic teacher Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington). Tolson is a threat to whites in the community who don’t like the fact that he’s a radical sort who is organizing a revolution amongst the local farmers.

More distinctively, the story’s limelight is focused on four intelligent students who come from different backgrounds. Henry Lowe (Nate Parker) is the defiant but extremely brilliant type. Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett) is the only girl on the team and has transferred from another school simply to be on the debate team and air her opinions about racism. Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams) is a bright but conservative speaker while James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), is the youngest member of the team whose strict father, Professor James Farmer (Forest Whitaker) is both a preacher and a professor at Wiley College, and he is not in agreement with Tolson’s radical nature. Tolson also has communist ties and politics which he relegates to the externalities of the classroom while he concentrates on carving the students into powerful speakers by encouraging his students those to use words as weapons and this result in a number of victories against local colleges.

The Debaters is the true story of radical Professor Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington) and his effort to take the newly formed African-American Wiley College Texas debate team to an influential status and use them in the fight against racial subjugation. Through their struggles, they are invited to battle the national champions, Harvard University where they emerge winners.

Extreme Racial Discrimination – This is the main theme of the movie as racism is clearly seen all through the movie beginning from the scene where Professor James Farmer killed a big belonging to two white men. The humiliation and degradation is seen in the eyes of Dr. Farmer as he obeys everything the white men say. This can also be seen when the black farmers in the community were having a meeting for revolution. The debate against the Oklahoma University school team when the University refused to allow the Willey College debating team into their premises for the debate because of their black race.
Persistence/Determination – This is also one of the strongest themes in the film as we see persistence in Tolson and members of his team as they raise their voices and fight against racial discrimination through their debates and even when it seems like all hope is lost, they still pick themselves up and try again.
Passion – This is exuded by Tolson all through the film. He has a passion for his work in training the students and a passion for his cause in fighting for the revolution of the black people. He works hard and doesn’t care about himself in the passion and his drive for freedom from racism.
Love – James Farmer Junior’s love for Samantha Booke is seen right from the day she enters into his class through to the end of the film to the extent that he even fantasises about dancing with her.
Betrayal – Betrayal is also a theme in this film as James Farmer Junior feels betrayed by Samantha when he finds out that she has had sex with Henry Lowe. Betrayal can also be seen when Samantha finds that Henry has cheated on her with another girl.
Hope – This is another theme in the movie and it depicts how the blacks in the film believe that there is hope for the black race and that segregation and discrimination will cease and this is why they still continue to fight despite all odds.

There are three narratives in one that we see at the beginning that merged to become one later in the film. These narratives are used to introduce the major characters into the film and they include:
The dancing black folk the audience is introduced to Henry Lowe and Melvin Tolson who are key characters in the film.
The train ride which acquaints the audience with the only girl on the debate team. Her name is Samantha Booke.
Professor James Farmer who gives a debate that introduces the essence of the film as one that shows a fight for freedom of the blacks from racial discrimination through a powerful voice and a debating team. This narrative also brings James Farmer Junior as well as Pearl Farmer into the picture.

I expected the Wiley team to win their final debate with Harvard University.
I expected Dr. Farmer to be treated the way he was during the pig incidence.

I did not expect James Farmer Junior to cause the defeat of the team in the debate against Michigan.
I also did not expect Henry to behave the way he did after their encounter with the Lynch mob and the Lynched man who was burnt to death.
I expected Henry to really apologise and beg Samantha for having sexual intercourse with another girl no matter if he was drunk or not.
I did not expect Tolson to show up at the final debate with Havard.
I also expected that Henry would be the one who leads the Wiley College team to victory against the Havard team.
I did not expect Tolson to be let off the hook by the whites so easily.

Hurt and Betrayal – This feeling comes clearly as Samantha stares at Henry locked in passion with another girl. Samantha cries as she stares helplessly at Henry who does not seem to care that he could be seen by anyone around the area.
Bitterness – This is clearly felt when Henry was shouting at Farmer Junior after the Lynching incident that he was not the only one who was hurting was never going to forget what he saw (the burnt man). Henry’s bitterness is also felt as he recounts the harsh brutalities of the whites to the blacks.
Love – James ‘s love for Samantha right from the day she walks into his class is so palpable that even a knife would be able to slice through it.
Shame and Embarrassment – The feeling overcomes the audience at the scene of Professor James Farmer’s accident with the white man’s pig. Farmer is told to pick up the check which is intentionally thrown by the white man and also carries the pig after paying off the men with his next salary.
Fear – Henry, James and Samantha’s fear seeps through to the audience as Tolson drives speedily in order to outrun the Lynch mob and save their lives. James’ fear is felt during the white men’s raid on the farmer’s meeting. The fear of the two black workmen who were interrogated by the Sherriff about the farmers’ revolution.
Pity – This is also evident when Farmer’s wife tells him that the family needed the salary to feed and survive. Pity is also felt for Tolson when Hamilton quits the group.
Happiness – The feeling comes through to the audience each time the Wiley debaters won a debate especially the ground breaking debate at Harvard University.
Sadness – The feeling comes across after the Lynching scenario. The sadness is felt in the four characters present.
Hope – When the Harvard invitation comes in, there is the feeling that all hope is not lost despite the loss of the debate.

The major cause that produced the most outstanding effect is the lynching of the black man who is burnt to death. If this had not happened when it did, the Wiley debaters would not have seen it and thus, they probably might not have won the ultimate debate between Harvard University.
Being witnesses of the lynching scene was also a catalyst for Henry’s drunken state which caused his betrayal to Samantha, causing her to jilt the team at the last minute and thereby denting the Wiley team’s undefeated debate record.
Samantha’s answer to Tolson’s question in the beginning about the sad look in a mother’s eyes when she can’t feed her baby is the joker Henry uses to win their first debate competition with Harlequin College.
Tolson’s imprisonment and bail terms barred him from going to Boston with his team and caused the team to be dangerously unstable for a while.

“Resolved” – This word is always used before the start of any debate in the film and it is also used by Tolson to indicate the end of the quarrel between Samantha and Henry after Samantha’s slap.
“An Unjust Law is No Law At All” – This phrase is used twice in the film; Professor James Farmer to the Sheriff and Farmer Junior in the Harvard University debate.
Who is the Judge?
The Judge is God.
And why is it God?
Because He decides who wins or loses not my opponent.
And who is your opponent?
He doesn’t exist.
Why doesn’t he exist?
Because He is the mute dissenting voice to the truth that I speak.
Speak the truth.
These statements taught to the Wiley debate team by Tolson was repeated over and over again in the film, at the beginning during their first training and at the end on the eve of the Harvard debate.
“Doing What We Have to Do So that We Can Do What We Want to Do”
This statement is used by James Farmer and James Farmer Junior in the film.
Book with an ‘e’ and Low with an ‘e’
This is repeatedly used by Professor Tolson in the movie.
The Cap that Henry wore at different times in the film.
Similarities are seen between the following:
Tolson and Henry share a common behaviour characteristic as they are both obstinate, passionate and extremely intelligent people.

Farmer Junior and Henry are two totally different people who though intelligent, think differently and are from different childhood backgrounds. Junior is calm and conservative while Henry is quite the opposite.
Henry Lowe in the beginning is a cheap drunk and street fighter who has been imprisoned before but the latter Henry Lowe becomes a respectable member of the society; a Theologian.

This is obvious when the film plunges into the inner thought of James Farmer Junior on Prom night as he fantasises on how he would dance with and kiss Samantha Booke.
It can also be inferred that James junior led the team to defeat due to the lynching of the previous night that they witnessed.

The whole essence of the film in itself is based on a past historical event – Racisim. The film captures the segregation in the 1930s through the demonstration of the debate between Wiley College which represents the black race and the University of Southern California, (the whites) who at the time were the reigning debating champions. According to history, Wiley College did win the debate so it was a real achievement because Southern California was equal to today’s Harvard.
How did Dr. James Farmer find out where his older son had been that prom night?
Henry Lowe never really apologised to Samantha for his disloyalty to her and the audience was left to assume how they managed to patch up their relationship.
The scene where Dr. James Farmer had to pay a fortune for the pig he accidentally killed shows the level of racial discrimination that prevalent in that society.

Setting – The setting of this film is based in Jim Crow South Marshall, Texas. It is a semi urban setting which has attributes of both the rural and a little of the city life.
Costume – There was no special use of costumes as the costume for the film is all corporate and I believe it does not represent the living standards of the black people especially those who the film portrays as poor. For example, Dr. James and his family live on a mere 17 dollars and 37 cents per month yet they wear nice suits and live in a good house.
Lighting and Colour – The lighting of the film is really up to standard and the colour fluctuates between grayscale to light colours that make the environment really look rural.
Behaviour of the Characters – The characters were great and they all played their parts extremely well ranging from Denzel Washington to Whittaker and the others.

Long Shot – This shot is used at the very beginning of the film in giving the viewers a wide view of the area as well as relating the audience with the environment of the movie. This shot is also used as the Wiley debaters step into the Havard hall for the first time.
Crane Shot – A crane shot is used to usher in the final debate between both teams and it also shows the magnificence of the hall as well as the great number of people in attendance.
Fast Cutting – Fast cutting transitional devices are used during the final debate in rattling between Harvard University, Wiley University and the home of Dr. James Farmer.
Hand Held Camera Shot – This is seen in the scene where Tolson is driving recklessly when trying to escape the lynch mob.
Point of View (P.O.V) – This is clear when Tolson arrives the debate venue at Harvard and is expecting to see Henry up on stage, when he doesn’t, he scans the crowd until he finds Henry and this is shown with the movement of the camera.
Close up Shots – In the film, close ups are used to show the audience that there is a meaning connected to the particular object being shown. The close up shot of the Harvard debate trophy is seen. This is also evident during the team’s first practice when they began the chant; Who is the judge?, The Judge is God...
High Angle – This is used when Tolson leaves Havard University after the Wiley team has won the competition.
Medium Shot – This is the common shot used in the film. It is used to help the viewers relate with the person in the film.

I was able to relate to both sides of the student's lives -- academic and personal. Scenes in the film which were difficult to watch helped me understand the emotional state of the characters, their feeling of fear and shame et cetera. The film states clearly the events that happened in the South in the 1930s. While these scenes take the focus off of the debating at times, they also help in the understanding of the characters and the feelings that go into their debate arguments. Having the opportunity to see the love and loss, fear and shame, recklessness and determination, gave the characters life that made it all so real and allowed me to feel like I was really a part of all the events.



The struggle by the black race, also called the coloured people, for equality with the whites is perhaps one of the most prolonged issues of our time. This struggle was actuated by the preconceived idea that whites are superior to blacks because of some myopic biases that the former hold against the latter. Upholding their biases above morality and peaceful co-existence, this supposedly superior group has committed innumerable atrocities against their fellow humans all because they are of a different skin colour-black. The euphemism, racial discrimination, is a poor attempt at describing these inhumane acts.

The Great Debaters, directed by Denzel Washington is a vivid description of racial discrimination in America in the 1930s. The movie is about a certain professor at Wiley College, Mr. Tolson (Denzel Washington), who was against this discrimination and subjugation and was willing to be a voice for the people. He projected this voice through a debate team of four students who promoted the ideology that white and black children should be given the same privileges and opportunities because the blacks are not just part of America, but actually “the thread that holds it together”.

Tolson, who is dedicated to this cause of changing the status-quo, gives his best into training his team for debate competitions. The debate team is also portrayed as having a passion for change and not just winning the competitions. Together, both team and coach work tirelessly together and win a lot of competitions, the climax of which was beating Harvard university in their final competition.


Being a movie depicting the 1930s, the plot of this movie centres on old practices and customs. This is mirrored in the type of music, geographical location, props and so on that was used in the movie. For instance, the type of music being played at the beginning of the movie was anything but modern. The location was dominated by sandy roads, grasslands and so on. An example of a prop that depicted that era was the locomotive train that transported the debate team when they were leaving for their competition at Harvard University.


There are two narratives embedded in this movie;

 The personal lives of the debaters : Initially, the three debaters were shown in their former social circumstances; Henry Lowe at a party, James Farmer Junior at the church and Samantha Booke on a journey.

 The debate competitions: The movie later graduates into showing these people with their lives revolving around their debates.


The following themes were depicted in the movie;

 Racial Discrimination: This movie showed various scenes that spoke volumes about the level of racial discrimination during that era. An example of such scenes is that in which a negro was hanged and burned to death for nor justifiable reason whatsoever. Also the whites’ invasion of privacy and brutality meted on the blacks when Mr. Tolson was holding a meeting with the farmers.

 Struggle for equality: The whole movie centres on this as we see that all the debate competitions were anchored on this struggle.

 Courage: This was depicted in the way James Farmer senior handled the arrest of Tolson by standing up to the sheriff and being able to get Tolson out of jail.

 Passion: This was majorly for change and all the presentations of the great debaters showed their level of passion for the change in the status-quo.

 Determination: The team continued to write Harvard University until they were granted audience. Also, when the topic for the debate with Harvard was changed, the debaters still did not relent in their efforts.

 Fear: This was shown in the debate team when they witnessed the brutal killing of a fellow Negro and escaped being mobbed just narrowly.

 Romance: This was between Samantha and Henry on the canoe at the lake.


Realised Expectation: It was an expectation realised that James Farmer Junior was caught sneaking into his house at 1:00a.m. by his dad.

Cheated Expectation: The first here was the fact that Tolson did not go to Harvard with the team. A second cheated expectation was that Henry Lowe let James take his expected place at the final competition with Harvard. Also, when Tolson went to Harvard eventually, it was a cheated expectation that he did not wait to congratulate the team.


One example of this was when James was watching Tolson’s meeting with the farmers and the white mob came. He found himself on the floor of a stable and was grabbed by the neck by an unknown person who was revealed to be Tolson shortly after.

A second example was when the team was faced by the mob on their trip, everyboby in that scene actually stood still and silent for some seconds.

A third example was when James Farmer Senior hit the white men’s pig and then one of the white men drew his weapon.


There is a feeling of passion for change in the debaters, the fear in them as they encounter the injustice against a fellow Negro, confidence in the team by Tolson. Also, there is the feeling of deep likeness that James has for Samantha. Also, the feeling of unhappiness in Samantha after Henry comes home drunk with another girl.


One of these is that Tolson’s bad experience as a child in relation to his father made him the tough man that he became.

Also, Henry Lowe who lost his parents as a child grew up to be independent.

James Farmer had his family complete and we saw that he was really dependent on them.


One of these was the statement, “The Judge is God, because he determines who wins or losses...” which the great debaters were made to recite at the beginning of their training. This was later recited by James when Henry asked him to take his place at the debate.

Also the way James said “we do what we have to do so that we can do what we want to do” during his conversation with his dad after being appointed a member of the debate team insinuates that it is a recurrent statement in the house.

Thirdly, when Farmer senior was talking with the sheriff, he quoted St. Augustine saying, “an unjust law is no law at all”. This was later repeated by Farmer Junior at the Wiley/Harvard competition.


From the onset Henry Lowe was shown to be more independent and outspoken than his team mates. He also had a different approach to things even little things like is going to admire the cup while his team mates were showing so much excitement at being in Harvard. This alos showed his level of maturity as opposed to the others.


An example of this was when Farmer Junior was imagining himself dancing with Samantha and actually kissing her at the ball.


The setting aptly depicted the 1930s. The types of cars used all through the movie, the canoe on the lake, the sandy roads, the dressing mode of the cast (even Henry’s hairdo), the locomotive train, the type of ball that was organised, the type of music and dance at the party shown in the first scene of the movie.


Dolly-in: This movement was used many times in the movie, for instance at the debate between Harlequin College and Wiley College. The camera dollyed-in when the debaters from both sides were speaking.

High Angle: An example was during the debate between Wiley College and Harvard.

Crane: An example of this was at the beginning of the movie when the camera seemed to be flying over water.

Point of View (P.O.V.): An example of this was when Tolson got to Harvard and did not see Henry upstage. The camera started scanning the audience to represent the fact that Tolson was trying to locate Henry.

Finally, this movie is very thorough in its depiction of each of its themes. It also emphasises the importance and advantages of sound historical education and the need for versatility.


Posted by Harry Itie

Slum Dog Millionaire is a movie that is set in the slums of Mumbai, India and it talks about a boy, Jamal and the circumstances surrounding his life that finally brings him to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (WWTBAM). The movie is centered on his life and how he strives just to get the girl of his dreams, Latika. The movie is analyzed in various ways:

• Themes: there are various themes in Slum Dog Millionaire; the themes are the central idea/major idea in any movie. A major theme of Slum Dog Millionaire is Destiny of love between Jamal and Latika. From the point when it was raining and Jamal asked Latika to join them, the two of them had been destined to be together and Jamal kept searching for Latika. When they eventually escaped from Javid, Jamal wanted Latika to join them but Salim disagrees. They eventually leave Taj Mahal because Jamal wants to see Latika and Salim s angry about that. After Salim kills Javid, they escape this time with Latika. After Salim runs off with Latika, Jamal still does not give up on his search and he eventually finds her by accident even if Salim did not want him to. Jamal kept waiting at the train station at 5:30 for Latika to surface. He even went for the show, WWTBAM just because he knew Latika would be watching. The destiny idea of the film resonates throughout the film. At the beginning and end of the film, the phrase “it is written” was used and this really shows destiny. Hope- this is what kept Jamal persistent and consistent in his search for Latika was hope. He went into the show because he knew Latika would see him. Forgiveness- he forgave his brother Salim so many times after all the atrocities he committed against him. Cruel Absurdity of the real world- this is shown in Jamal, Salim and Latika’s world, one without parents who fend for themselves that they even met Mafians who used children cruelly for moneymaking. This shows that the real world is very cruel and so many evil things happen there. Even subjecting Jamal to torture because he won the show is outright cruel.

• Narratives: there are two narratives embedded into one. The first one is Jamal’s quiz show and the flashback that told his experience of the past. The amazing thing is that the two narratives are brought together to achieve a goal. The flashback embedded the second narratives. There were various expectations of the viewers in Slum Dog Millionaire like; Jamal would always get the answers to the question because he is the hero. The viewers did not expect that Salim would turn out as bad as he did. The audience expected Jamal and Latika to re-unite. They expected that Jamal would win the show. It was also expected that there would be a reaction to the death of his brother Salim.

• Emotions and Feelings: in this movie, there were feelings of pity, pain, love, sorrow, sadness, sympathy. All these were shown from the beginning of the film. For love, Jamal and Latika loved each other despite all the intervening variables they still get back together.

• Cause and Effect: the experiences that Jamal had made him to have the answers to the question. Perhaps, if his mother had not died, he would not have the experiences to answer the question. An instance of the statue of god, Rama, what it holds on its right hand. All through the film one event leads to the other.

• Similarity and Repetition: right from the point where Jamal and Latika met, when Jamal is shown the next person that is likely to be shown is Latika. There is the yellow clothing of Latika which is very consistent through the early teenage and Lady Latika. Salim always showed that courage to be valiant and tough because he demonstrated courage even in the rescue of Latika. “it is written” is shown at the beginning and the end. “Latika was shown at the train station where she was going to meet Jamal.” It was shown over and over again in that film. Also, the part that their mother died, when she was asking them to run.

• Differences and Variation: the two brothers, Salim and Jamal were two different people. The slum when it was bad and later when they made it into a large housing estate. The fact that Jamal went to the show not to win but to be seen. But he later ended up winning.

• Depth of Story Treatment: when you plunge into the psychology, images of the character. The inner thought, thinking, memories of the character. Some of these are: Jamal thinking about throwing Salim down from the high rise building (incomplete). The whole film is based on the depth of treatment. Jamal always thinking about Latika even on the show. When Jamal thinks about the questions and finds the answers from his experiences.

• Function of Element: the killing of Jamal’s mother just shows religious crisis that also takes place in India. The first scene where Jamal was tortured, it is not done, even if the person uses “jazz” i.e. diabolical means; even the host was very terrible. Salim went bad so he could survive because of circumstances, he killed Naman so he will not come after him and had to stay under the solace of Javid for protection. Where did Salim get the gun from? Why didn’t the chili pepper affect Latika’s face when she lay down with the gloves she used to pick the pepper.

• Cinematography: fast cutting- traditional devices. Jarring pulsating visuals- this was more at action point, an example is when they fell off the train and rolled into the brush below. Jarring is the shaking of the camera when the characters move. Close-up shots- they were used in the film on the actors. They help the viewer to identify with the actor and also the music used was rhythmic. Angles- different directional angles were used in the film. This technique does not really help you identify from the point of view of the actor. It makes the viewers a real external observer which is not very good because the camera is supposed to be the eye of the viewers. Crane shots- what was used when they were playing cricket and the police man was chasing him. Rear projection- here a background comes closely to the foreground, the two are brought together and you see the action in the background. This is shown when Jamal was shouting Latika’s name at the train station. These twin shots took place at different places and time.

• Evaluation: the movie was very nice and unique in its own way, in fact for a book adaptation I think it was very impressive. The characters captured their roles well even to the little Jamal and Salim. The costumes used told the level of poverty in the slum.

Movie Analysis for White Waters

Posted by Harry Itie

White Waters is a movie produced by Amstel Malta Box Office. The winner of this acting competition is giving a chance to be the lead actor in this movie. White Waters is set in a village in Plateau state and it basically talks about a boy who has to learn to believe in himself after he was rejected by his mother and step-father. The movie is analyzed below with the following steps:

• The Theme or Meaning of the film: this talks about the social elements that the film relates to or portrays. A major theme in White Waters is that nobody should be seen as a write-off. Melvin was once considered a write-off by both his mother and everyone around him, it was only his grandmother that believed in him. At the end of the day, he won the 100 metres race for his State to the amazement of the rest of the village. There is explicit meaning, that is, the open meaning that can be seen, an example is in White Waters everybody is said to be endowed with talents, it is just for you to portray it.

• Narrative form: here, you form an expectation – this is when the viewers begin to have expectation as they watch the film. The point of narrative form is to discover if the expectations are realized, cheated or was there a surprise to the audience. The surprise in this film was that Banji swallowed his pride and was happy with Melvin. Another surprise was that Melvin’s mother left him.

• Suspense: it was also used in this movie to delay the viewer’s expectation; an instance is during the sports event, the camera followed every athlete until the point where the baton fell. There was also a surprise when Nola was attacked and there was a sudden black-out after which we see Nola on the floor.

• Feeling: from the beginning of the movie, there is the feeling of pity for Melvin as he does not go to school or have anything to look up to but rather is just taken care of his grandmother. There is also the feeling of disappointment, from Melvin’s father and mother then finally Nola believing them and leaving him. Some other themes are love between Nola and Melvin, also between Melvin and his grandmother. There is also hope and feelings of joy.

• Cause and Effect: this shows the cause of a matter and the effect on the character in the movie. This relationship runs through this story. As a result of the plot by Banji, Nola broke up with Melvin. Because the baton fell from Melvin’s hand, he was thrown out of the team and the coach was sacked. Because his parents left him he had several insecurities including inferiority complex. Also, the fact that Melvin was always running made him join the team.

• Similarity and Repetition: it could be a word, and occurrence, event that is similar or a repetition. The purpose of repetition is to lay emphasis on a particular thing. Similarity is when something that has taken place is being carried out by another person. There was a similarity between the role played by Nola and the coach when they tried to build Melvin’s confidence. Repetition is when the character is doing the same thing again at different points in the movie. The word “Massive” was repeated severally in the movie by Banji and the girls. The fact that Melvin runs was stated and repeatedly shown in the movie. Other similar things in this movie is secret admiration between Nola and Melvin, also, between the boys that had been watching and knew that he could run.

• Differences and Variation: the purpose of this is to place emphasis on two different things. An instance in White Waters is seen when Banji is the complete opposite of Melvin, he is confident, proud, rich, e.t.c while Melvin is poor, shy and insecure. The difference between Melvin’s father and his coach is also seen here, Melvin’s father is impatient and does not believe in Melvin while the coach is very patient with Melvin and believes strongly in Melvin.

• Depth of Story: this is how the movie plunges into the character’s psychological state. To what extent do the viewers see what is going on in the mind of the character. An instance is at the last scene when Melvin was about to run and he was thinking that he is not a failure.

• Motif (i.e. Function of Elements): this is the justification of the inclusion of some elements, an example is the White Water shown in the film depicts the film’s title and also peace of mind for him. The part that he was practicing and it was raining.

• Mis En Scene: here, the setting of the movie is talked about, the colour, the behavior of charaters, lighting, costume. The movie is set in the village and stadium. The characters interprete their roles well.

• Cinematography: here, the camera shots, angle, movement and transitional devices are looked at. In Camera shot, long shots were used in so many scenes and this was to familiarize the audience with the environment. Crane shots was used at the stadium when the athletes were running. Close-up shots were also used on the characters. In Camera movement, track shots where used when Melvin’s mother and grandmother were arguing.

• Evaluation: based on a personal critical standard, I feel that the movie was interesting enough but at the same time not good enough for the expectation of the audience of Amstel Malta box office. The characters tried their best to portray themselves well in the movies but there were some unnecessary scenes. As much as they tried to avoid it, the movie was still very clich├ęd.