Denzel Washington

Directors in the Oscar race

Washington says he was “just terrified” directing “Antoine Fisher.” On his second effort, “The Great Debaters,” the star-turned-helmer says, “It was just as terrifying, probably, but it was smoother, and I was a lot more prepared this time around.”

The film’s an underdog story that also explores the roots of the civil rights movement. The true tale concerns an all-black Texas college debate team that works its way to a battle against Harvard in 1935.

Given the setting and subject matter, Washington says he wanted to bring energy to the story. Pic begins with a striking sequence intercutting scenes in contrasting settings: a seduction in a juke joint, a righteous college lecture, a man running through countryside at night.

“I didn’t want to be laid back, slow, old South, blues,” he says. “I wanted to come in hard and fast. I dug that. Our music supervisor brought me this obscure recording of Austin Coleman’s ‘My Soul Is a Witness,’ so we rerecorded that and used that to start the film.”

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