Washington screens 'Debaters' on home turf

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MARSHALL, Texas -- Denzel Washington screened "The Great Debaters" in the town that is home to the 1930s debate team portrayed in the Golden Globe-nominated film.

Walking the red carpet leading to Marshall Cinema, Washington wore a purple baseball hat with the logo of Wiley College, located in this town of 24,000 people about 140 miles east of Dallas. The 52-year-old actor stars in the movie as educator and poet Melvin Tolson, who led the all-black college's elite debate team.

"This is where it started," Washington said at Thursday's screening. "You can feel it. These are real people. It's a small-town story. I've done a few screenings of this movie, but this is the best one."

Washington also directed the film, which on Thursday was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best drama.

"We're here to celebrate the accomplishment of your town," he told the audience. "We're really proud of it. We're excited about bringing the film back home where it belongs."

Earlier in the day, stars of the film Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett and Denzel Whitaker held a news conference on the campus of Wiley, which has about 900 students.

"We hope people see the film and get touched by it," Smollett said. "So far, people are getting so much joy from it. That's food for our soul."

The debate team at Wiley has been defunct for years. Washington said he'd like to see it resurrected.

"I'm pleased as punch for these young people and people that came before us as we celebrate with this town and this school," he said. "We'll try to help the school and get the debate team back on its feet. It seems like the right thing to do. It's time for another winning streak."
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