I’d love to get into Denzel Washington‘s The Great Debaters, which I saw this evening, but it’s early yet. Discussions and terms await. But it’s essential to mention Nate Parker, who plays one of three African-American debaters (the other two played by Jurnee Smollett and Denzel Whitaker) from Wiley College in 1935 who wound up debating the Harvard University team, under the guidance of Washington’s Melvin B. Tolson.
I’ve never seen Parker before, but he’s got it. He’s charismatic, good-looking…a “tan” Paul Newman (as Newman was in The Young Philadelphians) who looks people in the eye cool and steady, and perhaps has a slight weakness for women.
Parker has only been in the game since ’04. He’s acted only on TV and in crappy movies so far. (I missed his supporting performance in Pride, the swim-team sports movie with Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac that opened last March.) Worse, his next two are low-rent exploitation films — Tunnel Rats (directed by — yipes! — Uwe Boll) and Felon. The Great Debaters is Parker’s first and only A-level effort. He needs to build on it and move in another direction, or in five years he’ll be Dorian Harewood. It’s his call.
All I know is, Parker has a quality, a presence, a vibe. He could be another Denzel. A small group I spoke with after tonight’s screening agreed on this point, or at least that he’s Newman-esque. It’ll be intriguing to see what happens.