Thurgood Marshall was a civil rights icon.
As founder of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, he argued 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and won all but three. The most notable may have been Brown v. Board of Education, which threw out the “separate but equal” approach to public education.
In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him as the first African-American to sit on the Supreme Court.
Rather than attempt to tell Marshall’s life story, the film “Marshall” selects one case in which he was involved.
In 1941, when he was hopping across the country by train to defend African-Americans, he works with local attorney, Sam Friedman, to defend a man accused of raping his employer’s wife.
Although this is, in some ways, a standard courtroom drama, the film summarizes the challenge of finding justice for African-Americans as well as the prejudice against Jews while America was fighting the Nazis and while Jews in Europe were being sent to death camps.
Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) fights for individual rights on the home front alongside Friedman (Josh Gad), a rather reluctant advocate.
Young Marshall is depicted as brash, brilliant and driven.
In this snapshot that summarizes a long and illustrious career, Boseman embodies what made Marshall such a pivotal figure in the civil rights struggle. He is tenacious, unbending and a bit self-righteous, but these are the qualities that made him successful.
Although often playing for the quick laugh, Friedman (Gad) reminds the audience that the fight for equality was (and is) not only for blacks but for every citizen, regardless of race, color or creed.
In addition to the search for justice, the primary ethical theme here is the nature for truth and what leads us to lie.
Both accuser and accused have separate stories driven by their own fears and needs. The courtroom drama peels away the lies and discloses the fears of each while uncovering the truth.
There are no direct references to a biblical perspective on justice and truth telling in the film, but the church has the opportunity to address both issues as we seek to deal with a resurgence of white supremacy and an increasing awareness of white privilege in society.
As the leaders of the civil rights movement pass from the scene, films like “Marshall” remind us of the courage of those who led and those who stood with them.
It is also a reminder that the fight for justice continues.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is a supplementary professor in contextualization at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Barnabas File, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ircel.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexuality, violence and some strong language.
Director: Reginald Hudlin.
Writers: Jacob Koskoff and Michael Koskoff.
Cast: Chadwick Boseman (Thurgood Marshall), Josh Gad (Sam Friedman), Kate Hudson (Eleanor Strubing), Sterling K. Brown (Joseph Spell), Dan Stevens (Loren Willis).
The movie’s website is here.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.