“The only way to get through a bigots door is to break it down…”
When Chadwick Boseman utters this line as Thurgood Marshall , it sent chills down my spine. Especially knowing not a whole lot has changed between this time in American history and the world we wake up to every day in 2017.
In the pre-dawn hours of December 11, 1940, a woman limped onto a road, soaking wet, scraped and bruised, her dress torn. Two truck drivers spotted her and pulled over by the Kensico Reservoir in Westchester County, N.Y. While waiting for the police to arrive, they listened to this woman’s sensational story.
Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson) told them she’d been raped by her “Negro chauffeur-butler” (Joseph Spell magnificently portrayed by Emmy Winner Sterling K. Brown), who bound, gagged her, drove to the reservoir bridge, pushed her off and pelted her with rocks. Strubing’s sealskin coat and one shoe had been lost in the freezing water.
Nine months earlier, the prolific and historic author Richard Wright had published his now classic Native Son. Now, America was seemingly looking at a real live Bigger Thomas in the embodiment of Joseph Spell.
Enter Thurgood Marshall. 50 years ago, Marshall was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the first African-American justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. But before that prestigious appointment and Brown vs. The Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall was a humble legal eagle for the NAACP, whose mission was to fight against the injustice of those people of color who couldn’t fight for themselves.
It was Thurgood Marshall who was assigned to the Spell case, but the racist laws existing in our country prevented him from actually litigating the case. Enter Sam Friedman. Friedman, had a small, yet successful law firm, mostly focusing on insurance. Being Jewish and inexperienced, Friedman joined forces with Marshall to prove without a shadow of a doubt that Joseph Spell was innocent.
This premise makes Marshall a most compelling, nail-biting film to witness. While not your typical biopic and with a few slow moments at the top, the audience gets a well-rounded view of Marshall as a husband, lawyer and most importantly…a black man in 1940’s America. It also gives us a slight insight onto the disdain thrown toward those of Jewish descent as well.
Thanks to director Reginald Hudlin, we are given a black film that has value even if for no other reason than to remind society of the blatant and inconsistent injustice people of color face just walking out of their door. Nothing has changed. Instead of being lynched by cowards in white sheets, we are shot police officers.
Communities around the U.S. proclaimed October 2, 2017, “Thurgood Marshall Day” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the day Marshall was sworn in as the nation’s first African-American Supreme Court justice in 1967.
Wearing a pink tie at this auspicious occasion, Marshall’s son stated with a choked up throat, “…we are still fighting one equal battle after another.”
Chadwick Boseman, who has become synonymous with portraying historical black figures, turns in yet another solid performance as Thurgood Marshall. This young man has the uncanny ability to take on history with respect, gusto and class like no other I have seen in his generation.
Keesha Sharp, mostly known on the small screen is finally getting her due on the silver screen playing Marshall’s wife “Buster”. She’s such a class act!
Josh Gad gives Sam Friedman a humanity and comedic sensibility that balances out the drama of this film. He’s the perfect sidekick. However, it’s Sterling K. Brown whose performance is the most layered and complex as Joseph Spell. Brown can transform you right into his world with one transfixed gaze while not uttering one single word.
Marshall will leave you feeling some kind of way and scratching your head as to how America slightly evolved and went backwards with her progress. My hope is that for every individual that views Marshall to do their part in inching us forward and this time keep us evolving and growing as a nation. Thurgood Marshall, his legacy and his life deserve that.
Marshallopens in theaters nationwide on Friday, October 13th.