“Marshall” is a social commentary on segregated America in the 1940s. Set in affluent Greenwich, Conn., the story recreates the 1941 Supreme Court case Connecticut v. Spell and celebrates the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice on the court.

The film begins when Eleanor Strubing, a wealthy model citizen played by Kate Hudson, accuses her black chauffeur, Joseph Spell, played by Sterling Brown, of rape and attempted murder. Thurgood Marshall, played by a captivating Chadwick Boseman, is a representative of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, who undertakes court cases in which the accused face racial discrimination and unfair legal treatment.

Connecticut v. Spell is one of his first cases.

The film is able to invoke strong emotions from the audience through its authentic depictions of life in America in the 1940s. For example, the film includes scenes shot around “white-only” water fountains to help recreate the intensely segregated environment of the time. Throughout the film, the audience witnesses characters experience discrimination and verbal and physical harassment.

In the film, Marshall challenges the social norms of his community. In several inspirational speeches, Marshall references the Constitution and exposes the ways in which the text excludes an entire race.

In a panel following the film screening at the Regal Gallery Palace in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 5, criminal attorney Robert L. Jenkins said: “The law is a very powerful tool but it has limitations.”

The audience observes a conflict between the rule of law and the ways in which it is interpreted. “Marshall” shows the audience that although the laws cannot be changed easily, people can change their attitudes. To Marshall, winning his court cases directly relates to the prosperity of the black community in America.

The inclusion of another key figure in the film, Sam Friedman, an insurance lawyer played by Josh Gad, adds further historical context and dimension to “Marshall.” Friedman’s character, who also represents Spell, is Jewish. The audience is consistently able to see the ferocity of racism against both black and Jewish communities during the 1940s. Reminding the audience of the hardships faced by Jewish-Americans during this time in American history, the film includes a scene that references the Holocaust.

Although Marshall and Friedman come from very different places, they are ultimately able to learn from each other.

Marshall is a leader who is able to champion the black community while working with people from other communities to accomplish his goals. Friedman becomes more aware of social injustice in America and wants to fight against it. Friedman therefore becomes a symbol of hope for Marshall as he realizes that people of other minority groups also want to make a difference. At the same time, he is able to make a difference more effectively because he is white, and thus has access to different resources and a different level of privilege than Marshall does.

Although Marshall is depicted as a hero, he is also humanized: He is shown to have his own character flaws. In one scene in a bar, it is hinted that Marshall may be unfaithful to his wife. This helps remind audiences that Marshall is not a perfect individual, but rather an ordinary human capable of extraordinary things.

As Jenkins said on the panel, “we all have our own roles to play.”

“Marshall” shows that no matter a person’s role in their community, they have the power to be a leader like Marshall and promote change in society. The film does a fine job of both reflecting on Marshall’s determination, and inspiring the audience to follow his passions. It is this lasting, powerful message that leaves viewers hopeful for greater equality in the world today.


  1. donald gotshalk says:

    Movie left me with a good taste in my mouth. Rare these days.
    Jewish groups to this day honor and remember well that generation of both blacks and Jews that participated 50 years ago in the drive to advance social justice for all minorities in America. Sadly these same two groups are the first to acknowledge that the past 25 years have seen changes in the effectivness of watered down, once well intentioned but now failing, legislation that is doing more harm than good for the Blacks and Jews but also the many other substantive minorities that populate our changing country today.

  2. Carl Michael Joerger says:

    We, unfortunately, also have to acknowledge the rise of antisemitism in the black community in, “the past 25 years”. If you don’t believe me, go to any YouTube site hosted by a black man. While you are there, be sure to let the subscribers know you are Jewish, and watch the hatred fly. Carl

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