Jurnee Smollett played Samantha Booke in the film “The Great Debaters” (2007, set at Wiley College in Texas during the Great Depression), who becomes the first woman selected by debate coach Melvin B. Tolson (played by Denzel Washington) to compete on the debate team, which defeats the University of Southern California’s team (changed to Harvard in the movie).
Smollett gives credit for much of her success and powerful performance to her mother, Janet, who “had a very socially active life.”
“She marched and she did the sit-ins and she did voter organizing,” Smollett said.
“It built that whole warrior spirit inside of all of us.
“She told me, ‘You’ve been given this talent for a reason.
“It’s not for you to gloat in the fame, because there are always people around who will pat you on the back, but you have to know at the end of the day, you are to use this talent for a bigger purpose.’ “
[Los Angeles Times, Dec 24, 2007.]
[Photo at top: Denzel Washington, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Denzel Whitaker, Nate Parker in The Great Debaters.]
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