Chadwick Boseman stars as Thurgood Marshall in director Reginald Hudlin’s biographical legal drama. Cristina Diaconu takes a closer look at this powerful film…
This review contains spoilers.
Set in the 1940s after Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) became an attorney for the NAACP, Reginald Hudlin’s film sends us back to the case of African-American Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) accused by his white employer, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), of sexual assault and attempted murder. However, this movie is not about how Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American Supreme Court justice or his accomplishments, it is more about him coaching a Jewish civil lawyer, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), into becoming a criminal lawyer.
In a world where everything seems to be divided between “white” and “coloured”, where even the drinking fountain has a sign reading “White only”, Marshall decides to make a difference and join the NAACP in an attempt to end racial discrimination. But, as he said many times, he could only support the innocent ones; therefore he had to be sure that Joseph didn’t rape Eleanor.
In the state of Connecticut, as the judge said, only attorneys licensed to practise law there could talk in front of him. From that moment on, the bromance between Marshall and Friedman started. Everything that Marshall investigated about the case would be presented in front of the jury by Friedman, who let himself be guided through handwritten notes and body language.
The difficulty of this case came from the fact that Marshall couldn’t understand why a woman would lie about being raped. In order to prove Joseph’s innocence, he had to find the answer to that question. The truth was that “men are men and women are women”.
Boseman plays a classic Hollywood leading man of the 40s, a true Golden Age actor – sexy, cocky, and sarcastic. He wears perfectly tailored suits and smokes cigars in jazz pubs; traits that don’t belong to the real Thurgood Marshall, but of the Hollywood of that time. When he is in his office or around his people he becomes a God-like figure, but in the court he is diminished to being a black man who is bringing violence upon the African-American population.
Although less noticeable, Friedman is fighting his own fight too – he is a Jewish man in 1941, the year Hitler decided to annihilate the Jews in Europe. He is well known in his community and being associated with this case; it scares him to be associated with trying to set free an alleged rapist.
Issues of racial discrimination and inequality are present in the film, even though not to the extent of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) or 12 Years a Slave (2013). In an emotional scene, Marshall reminds Joseph of their grandfathers who fought for their own freedom and for the freedom of black people. That moment is perfectly linked to one of the ending scenes that predicted what Marshall was going to do for the black people – bring them rights. Above a drinking fountain is a sign that reads “White only”, a sign that Marshall ignores before drinking water from it. All this is witnessed by an old, black man looking at him with pride and hope that the young generation will keep making a difference.
Written by Cristina Diaconu
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
Written by: Michael Koskoff, Jacob Koskoff
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, Sterling K. Brown, James Cromwell
Released: 2017 / Genre: Drama
Country: USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Marshall on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film was released on DVD in the UK Feb 26.