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THE GREAT DEBATERS

Harvard University
"Although the Wiley team did defeat the national champions, we couldn't find documentary evidence that they actually debated Harvard University. Nonetheless, we felt for our story Harvard best embodied Wiley's incredible achievement and conveyed the real Wiley debate team's true sense of accomplishment. In that era, there was much as stake when a black college debated any white school, particularly one with the stature of Harvard. We used Harvard to demonstrate the heights they achieved,” notes screenwriter Eisele. "The fact that we were granted permission to film there and not have to recreate it, was remarkable,” adds Producer Black.

Co-Producer Molly Allen is responsible for securing Harvard University as one of the key locations of the movie. A former location manager who worked previously with Denzel Washington on his directorial debut, Antwone Fisher, she explains, "The person I was to speak to about filming at Harvard was ‘no, no, no, no, we don't allow it.'”

She continues, "They told me that they were about education and didn't want the interruption. But once I got the name of Eric Engle who is in charge of the Sanders Theatre in Memorial Hall, I bugged him a lot. I told him how important it was to the story that we film at Harvard and not recreate it somewhere else. He told me to be patient. He was a tremendous asset to the process. Without Eric, we wouldn't be at Harvard.”

She smiles, "I'm a fairly impatient person so I bit my nails for four days, but when the door opened, I stuck my foot in and that was it.”

Shooting at Harvard helped the actors tremendously.

"You can just feel the heritage in the place. The moment you walk onto the stage you just instantly smile. It's an excitement that comes over you—Hello, Harvard!!!!!!!!!!” shouts Denzel Whitaker.

Jurnee Smollett agrees, "Walking onto the campus of Harvard, you feel the enormity of the place. It gives you this belief that you can accomplish anything.”

Nate Parker has another take, "It didn't really hit me until I walked onto the stage of the Sanders Theatre and saw the thousands of scuff marks on the floor and the worn leather seats in the auditorium.”

He continues, "Those scuffs on the wood signify all those feet that have crossed the stage for commencements, for secret societies—that's when it hit me how serious a place like Harvard is. Especially when I realized this college started without African Americans—or other minorities—and that the desire of people changed that. It makes you appreciate history.”

Washington smiles, "I'm glad that Harvard allowed us to share what they represent. Harvard is the standard. It was the standard then; it is the standard now.”

Allen concedes, "In the end, quite honestly, the names of Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey and Harvey Weinstein carry a lot of weight. Coupled with the amazing script, how could they say no?”

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