Young Thurgood Marshall Tackles Northern Racism in New ‘Marshall’ Trailer

By Sameer Rao Jun 22, 2017

Before he successfully argued for school desegregation before the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall built his legal reputation by defending African Americans in structurally unjust courtrooms around the country. "Marshall," an upcoming historical drama whose first trailer debuted yesterday (June 21), explores one of those cases, following Marshall as he tackles intersecting race, class and gender dynamics in an affluent Connecticut suburb.

Chadwick Boseman ("Black Panther") portrays Marshall as a young defender with the NAACP, sent to Connecticut in 1940 to work on The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell. As a 2005 Legal Affairs article chronicles, Spell (Sterling K. Brown, "This Is Us") worked in the home of a White family—one of the few professions available to Black people in pre-World War II Connecticut—whose matriarch Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson, "Deepwater Horizon") accuses him of rape and attempted murder.

The trailer depicts Marshall’s doubts about Spell’s innocence, even as the accused maintained the consensual nature of the sex. Marshall and his NAACP-appointed partner, a young and less-experienced White Jewish lawyer named Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad, "Beauty and the Beast"), confront the state and media’s reliance on racist Black-men-as-insatiable-rapists tropes, violent assaults by White thugs and their own questions of Spell’s innocence to eventually deliver a "not guilty" verdict from the all-White jury.

Director Reginald Hudlin ("Murder in the First") directed the film from a script by trial lawyer Martin Koskoff and his son Jacob ("Macbeth"). The movie also stars Keesha Sharp ("Lethal Weapon") as Marshall’s wife Vivien/"Buster," Jussie Smollett ("Empire") as poet Langston Hughes and Rozanda "Chilli" Hughes ("The Parkers") as author Zora Neale Hurston.  

"Marshall" opens in theaters October 13—11 days after the 50th anniversary of Marshall’s swearing-in as the United States’ first Black Supreme Court justice. Watch the trailer above.