Marshall (2017): Early Years of a Genius Legal Giant

Marshall (2017): Early Years of a Genius Legal Giant

With a list of lauded cast members, the film Marshall (2017), embarks upon the task of transforming a legal giant’s story onto the silver screen. This brave endeavor is the storytelling of one of Thurgood Marshall’s earlier cases (before Brown vs. Board of Education). It encapsulates the essence of purpose and determination in the career of one of the greatest legal minds this country has ever known. The movie, Marshall speaks about blatent truths of prejudice and racism, while uncovering the most subtle injustices lurking in the minds of the American people (the north and the south). Director Reginald Hudlin is known for movies like House Party, Boomerang, Django Unchained, and several television shows. Producers include Reginald Hudlin, Paula Wagner, and Jonathan Sanger. Writers are Jacob Koskoff Michael Koskoff.

Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) had been hired by the NAACP to argue cases and provide legal aid for innocent victims of racial injustice around the United States. He established that the original laws of the U.S constitution were never meant to help people of color. However, Marshall exercised these laws to provide platforms for the civil rights movement, asserting that a person of color can and should receive a fair trial in the United States of America, especially under his council and the advisement of the NAACP.

Joseph Spell (Sterling. K Brown), a black hired hand, was accused of raping his bosses wife, Eleanor Stubing (Kate Hudson) in 1941. The trial took place Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Spell case was one that Marshall took on early in his career (while in his 30’s). This story was intertwined with the story of  Jewish lawyer, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad). Friedman began as an insurance and tax lawyer and knew very little about being a defense lawyer for criminal cases. Ironically, he was catapulted into the limelight, while reluctantly joining Marshall on the Spell case.

After much deliberation and struggle, Friedman finally concluded that the civil rights struggle was for all men and not just for white men or Jewish men. He needed to represent the best of humanity and the truth about really happened between Joseph Spell and Eleanor Strubing, the night of the alleged crime.

Some scenes of the film include Harlem, where Marshall joins some long-time friends Langston Hughes (Jussie Smollet) and Zora Neal Hurston (Chilli) for a drink. These appearances put the film in perspective of the years following the burst of the Black Renaissance period; an era where African Americans emerged as collective magnificent power. Thurgood Marshall emerged as a civil rights  champion by hearing the cries for justice of the African American people.

Friedman proclaimed that Marshall had been “putting out fires all around the country”. Marshall replied by saying he wanted to put out the “fire” all together. What if he could train little Thurgood Marshalls all around the country?

During the trial, Friedman’s wife loses her cousins to the concentration camps in Europe. This struggle among others propels Friedman to fight harder for the Spell case. He comes to grips with the harsh reality of the U.S. legal system and pledges to do all that he can to win the civil rights war at home.

I liked the fact that Marshall acknowledges the brilliant ambitions of black women. He takes suggestions from women around him and uses these small details to help argue his case. His wife, Vivien "Buster" (Keesha Sharp) was very supportive, amidst their struggles, and patiently waited for him many nights to come home safely after his cases ended.

Some details that were highlighted that Marshall showed expertise in areas of: challenging and objection of statements, recreation of the crime scene, evidence, witness testimony, and choosing juries.

Overall, the story was well-delivered. Comedy was interjected into the screenplay at the right time. Pacing was consistent. There were a lot of little nuggets of wisdom imparted in the film; universal truths about injustice and fighting for the greater good. This case was one of many, but definitely a turning point for Thurgood Marshall's career. This film brings to light how the cards are stacked against people of color in the judicial system (still today), nepotism, and the laws and intricacies that bind our legal system together. Later Marshall would go on to argue and win Brown vs. Board of Education among others, and become the first African American Supreme Court Justice in 1967. I give this film 3 and half stars out of 4. The writing was good and I didn't expect to laugh as much as I did.


This is a quote from Thurgood Marshall is about the intent and
motivation behind how we live our lives. This quote embodies how he “fought the good fight”.

"What is the quality of your intent? Certain people have a way of saying things that shake us at the core. Even when the words do not seem harsh or offensive, the impact is shattering. What we could be experiencing is the intent behind the words. When we intend to do good, we do. When we intend to do harm, it happens. What each of us must come to realize is that our intent always comes through. We cannot sugarcoat the feelings in our heart of hearts. The emotion is the energy that motivates. We cannot ignore what we really want to create. We should be honest and do it the way we feel it. What we owe to ourselves and everyone around is to examine the reasons of our true intent. My intent will be evident in the results."

—Thurgood Marshall

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