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Denzel Whitaker Reflects On 'The Great Debaters' At Rated Black Screening

The Great Debaters Screening - Denzel Whitaker

In a celebration of Black cinema, RATED BLACK by Á La MODE Films recently hosted a special event featuring a screening of the classic, The Great Debaters, in its original 35mm film format.

Sponsored by the Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival and partnered with Wax & Wane, On Set ATL, and the Plaza Theatre, RATED BLACK aims to preserve and honor the rich legacy of Black cinema while fostering dialogue across generations.

The Great Debaters Screening - Denzel Whitaker
(L to R) Elisee Junior St Preux and Denzel Whitaker

The event took place at the historic Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, with over 100 guests in attendance, including students from Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University. Special guest Denzel Whitaker, NAACP Image Award winner and the actor who played James Farmer Jr. in the 2007 film, was also in the audience. After the screening, Whitaker participated in a discussion and Q&A session moderated by RATED BLACK curator Elisee Junior St Preux.

Before the event, The Quintessential Gentleman's Editor-in-Chief Eric Keith engaged in a candid conversation with Whitaker.

Reflecting on his mental state amidst the challenges of the industry, Whitaker expressed feeling uplifted and inspired, attributing his resilience to the support of his tribe and family.

"Mentally I feel uplifted and inspired. That comes by way of tribe and family because, as an actor coming out of the strike, everybody within the industry is sort of figuring out what the new paradigm is, what the new future is that we have to look towards," Whitaker shared. "We all have our ups and downs. So to be honest with you, with something like that, that I've been a part of for so long, you really lean on your tribe, you lean on your team, you lean on your family."

When asked about his outlook on the current landscape of Black culture in Hollywood, Whitaker shared his optimism but also calls for more diverse storytelling. He emphasized the need for increased representation in executive positions to greenlight projects that resonate with diverse audiences.

"Once we start moving into these executive positions, we can start greenlighting more things that resonate with us. We can start putting more of us on screen," Whitaker explains. "here are certain diversity initiatives, whether you want to say they exist all for the look and show or whether they're genuine. I think what we need is more diversity within stories, and that's not just within the black diaspora; that's within all factors of minorities."

Whitaker reflects on his fondest memory while shooting. "I even celebrated a birthday while shooting this film. There was a particular scene where it was my birthday, and I was fake sleeping," he recalls. "On the final take, we rolled it just like we roll any other tape, but instead, they rolled in with a birthday cake that was made for me. That was sweet. It's family everybody I still talk to today. I love these people."

The Great Debaters is a film centered around mentorship. Whitaker credits Denzel Washington for encouraging his exploration of behind-the-scenes roles. "I like to say he'd seen a curiosity in me before I knew what I wanted to do," Whitaker shares. Washington's guidance and support ignited Whitaker's passion for filmmaking, leading him to pursue projects both in front of and behind the camera.

Whitaker also discussed his creative endeavors through his company, Black Mouf, which serves as an incubator for his ideas and collaborations with other creators. He emphasized the importance of authenticity in artistic expression, urging fellow artists to create from a place of genuine inspiration.

Reflecting on awards and recognition in the industry, Whitaker acknowledged their significance while cautioning against becoming overly reliant on external validation. He stressed the importance of staying true to one's artistic vision and finding fulfillment in the creative process itself.

Looking ahead, Whitaker teased upcoming projects like his new short Brand New, which he shot with Kris D. Lofton, Maestro Harrell, Chad Coleman and Quincy Ledbetter. He expressed his excitement for future endeavors, both in acting and filmmaking. With multiple projects in development, he remains dedicated to pushing creative boundaries and telling compelling stories.

Check out the full interview below.

Check out more photos from the event.

Photo Credit: Plat Gamma


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