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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Marshall is a biopic about Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman). He eventually became the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court justice, but this movie focuses on one of his earlier court cases. Despite some iffy material, its excellent role models and strong messages about courage, teamwork, and tolerance make it a great movie for families with teens. Expect to see fistfights and beatings, with bloody wounds and bruises. There's also a flashback to a suggested rape, with violent acts against a woman. A fairly mild sex scene includes kissing but no nudity; the main character also kisses his wife and is shown lying with her in bed. Language includes several uses of the "N" word as well as "kike," a use of "f--k," uses of "s--t," and more. Characters drink alcohol in a social context (sometimes to excess), and there's background smoking.
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What's the story?
In MARSHALL, it's 1941, and Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) is working as a trial lawyer for the NAACP. He's sent to Connecticut to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black man working as a chauffeur who stands accused of raping his employer, a white woman named Eleanor Sturbing (Kate Hudson). Spell is further accused of driving her to a bridge, throwing her into the water, and pelting her with stones, but he maintains his innocence on all charges. Once in town, Marshall enlists the aid of local Jewish lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who has only handled insurance claims. The odds look tough and get tougher when the judge (James Cromwell) rules that Marshall won't be allowed to speak in court. Not to mention that, if Marshall loses this case, the NAACP could be shut down. And hanging over everything is the big question: Is Spell actually innocent?
Is it any good?
Structured not unlike John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln, this streamlined biopic deftly sidesteps most of the genre's cliches, offering a character who's both human and heroic. Director Reginald Hudlin (House Party, Boomerang) is hardly a master filmmaker, but he was part of an important movement of African-American filmmakers in the early 1990s, and he brings a crisp, bracing vigor to Marshall. It recalls Spike Lee's work on Malcolm X, but with less showiness; this is closer to the spirit of Ford.
Boseman is starring in his third biopic in five years, but his work here is more fascinatingly flawed than his performance in 42 and more emotionally gripping than in Get On Up. He delivers an expert performance, and the supporting cast steps up to match him. Even Brown finds depth as the accused Spell, which is something that even a classic like To Kill a Mockingbird couldn't quite manage. Taken all together, Marshall manages to evoke a certain kind of impotent rage, blended with the intoxicating power of standing up against hate. It's an important film as well as an entertaining one.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Marshall's moments of violence. How are those scenes used to underline racial tensions and the dangers that the characters faced?
Is Thurgood Marshall a role model? Why? What about Sam Friedman? What are their achievements? What are their flaws? How do they demonstrate courage and teamwork? Why are those important character strengths?
How accurate do you think the movie is? Why do you think filmmakers might tweak the facts in movies that are based on true stories? How could you find out more about the actual events and the people portrayed in the film?
Were you aware that a black filmmaker directed the movie? Can white filmmakers tell black stories, or is it better for black filmmakers to tell black stories? What's the difference?
What did you learn about past and current racial divides and/or racial tensions from this movie? Are people still discriminated against? Can that be remedied?
- In theaters: October 13, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: January 9, 2018
- Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Sterling K. Brown
- Director: Reginald Hudlin
- Studios: Open Road Films, Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic content, sexuality, violence and some strong language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 25, 2020
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