By Shad Reed
(AllHipHop Features) Marshall was written by 74-year-old attorney Michael Koskoff, a man who has spent five decades fighting both civil rights and criminal cases. Just shy of a decade ago, a friend informed Mr. Koskoff of a 1940 case he’d been researching about a black chauffeur who was charged with raping his white employer. The attorneys on the case were a young Thurgood Marshall and Samuel Friedman, a Jewish man.
“It was a great bond between an African-American and a Jewish guy at a time in history when both were subject to a lot of discrimination,” Koskoff told the press. “There was this great commonality of cause that I, myself, had experienced personally.”
Koskoff passed the idea along to his two children, both of whom are screenwriters. However, they felt their father would be the best one one to turn this story into a script because of his real-life experiences in the courtroom [Note: Michael’s son, Jacob, is also credited as a writer on the project]. Ultimately, the screenplay ended up in the hands of film producer Paula Wagner, whose work history includes Mission: Impossible and Jack Reacher, and after premiering at Howard University in September, the film Marshall was officially released to the masses this past Friday.
At the time when the movie takes place, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) is an NAACP attorney sent around the country to represent people who he finds to be receiving an unfair trial due to racism. In addition to being a captivating courtroom drama based on the sheer fact that the stakes are so high, things are further complicated when Marshall is forbidden to speak during the trial by the judge (James Cromwell) and so Friedman (Josh Gad) is called upon to be the voice for the defendant, even though he is a lawyer who has never dealt with criminal law. These circumstances prevent the movie from being a “seen it all before” experience, and force the film to rely heavily on the interplay between the actors.
Everyone is outstanding. Boseman is superb as the title character, and Gad does a phenomenal job as his right-hand man. The odd couple dynamic between the two make them relatable to the audience as oppose to just noteworthy historical figures. Sterling K. Brown, of This Is Us and The People Vs. O.J. Simpson fame, plays the accused Joseph Spell, a man grown weary from a checkered past and a fear for his future, with great conviction. This not only makes him a powerful presence on screen as a performer, but all the more compelling as a character as the truth about what really happened is gradually revealed. Golden Globe winner Kate Hudson is also impressive in her supporting role as Eleanor Strubing. In fact, one of the film’s only flaws is that her character isn’t explained a bit more, especially since she turns out to be quite complicated.
For as often as bio-pics are criticized for bending the truth, this movie does just the opposite and tells some truths that are not pointed out enough. During the middle of the 20th century, and because of things such as the Jim Crow laws, it is often perceived that the southern parts of the United States were unquestionably the most racist areas. However, this movie provides a not so friendly reminder that racism could and would run just as deep in the northern parts of the country as it did below the Mason Dixon line. By choosing to focus on a small period of time and a specific trial instead of Mr. Marshall’s entire life and multiple cases, details like that are able to be incorporated into the story and the movie is better off because of it. If the film were to cover more, it may inadvertently leave things like that out and that would trivialize his accomplishments and be a disservice to upholding his legacy.
The best thing about Marshall though is that it is about a pivotal moment on the journey to Thurgood desegregating schools in the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case fourteen years later and becoming the first African-American confirmed as Supreme Court justice thirteen years after that. Don’t get me wrong. If either of those better-known events were the basis for a film, I’d rush out to see those on opening night too. However, this Reginald Hudlin-directed film is important because it shows how bigotry and oppression were fought on a smaller (but equally as important) platform. It provides an example of how everyone can make a difference in the fight against discrimination. Marshall shows both how far things have come in terms of equality in America, but also that we still have a very long way to go.
So whether someone is talking about 1940 or 2017, hope was and still is needed and that is precisely what this movie provides. Therefore, I highly recommend it and want as many people to see it as possible.