Marshall Parent Guide
A compelling movie about a criminal trial pitting the word of a black man against a white women in 1940s Connecticut.
Parent Movie Review
Joseph Spell (Sterling K Brown) is in serious trouble. The African American chauffeur has been arrested for raping his employer’s wife and in 1940s Bridgeport, Connecticut, that’s as good as a death sentence. Luckily for Spell, the NAACP (National Association of Colored People) believes he might be innocent and sends Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) to defend him. Marshall is brilliant, driven, and a tad arrogant but he has one big problem: he isn’t a member of the Connecticut bar. To solve that problem, he’s put in touch with local insurance lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) who’s been asked to go to court and request that Marshall be allowed to argue the case. The judge (James Cromwell) refuses to give Marshall standing: he will be allowed to sit with Spell, but Friedman is going to have to defend the accused in court.
Marshall is a fascinating film that moves beyond the standard courtroom drama formula and digs deeply into the relationships between Marshall, Friedman, and Spell. Marshall is driven to see justice done and we watch as he and Spell maneuver warily around each other. Spell is slow to trust that Marshall really wants to help and Marshall struggles with inconsistencies in Spell’s story. Marshall also struggles to be patient with Friedman, who’s appalled at the thought of defending a black man accused of rape. He’s built a comfortable insurance practice and has no desire to draw the kind of hostile attention that will come if he defends Spell. In addition, Friedman is Jewish and prefers to sail under the radar and avoid the anti-Semitism he fears the trial will incite.
Given that the movie revolves around an allegation of sexual assault, parents should be careful about watching Marshall with their teens. It’s an excellent film, with strong messages about dignity, honesty, courage, and standing for your convictions, but it does come with some disturbing content. There is frequent discussion of the alleged sexual assault, including a graphic discussion with a gynecologist. The film also features carefully sanitized portrayals of sexual assault and attempted murder. There are several violent racially motivated attacks, 55 profanities, and a fair bit of smoking and drinking. The PG-13 rating should be taken seriously but this is an excellent movie for mature teens with an interest in serious topics.
In a stirring moment in the film, Marshall says, “The Constitution was not written for us. We know that. But no matter what it takes, we’re going to make it work for us. From now on, we claim it as our own.” One of the pleasures of watching Marshall comes from the knowledge that Thurgood Marshall will go on to become the first African American judge on the Supreme Court of the United States where he will spend 24 years extending the promises of the Constitution to all Americans, regardless of race, in an effort to ensure “equal justice for all”.Directed by Reginald Hudlin. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson. Running time: 118 minutes. Theatrical release October 13, 2017. Updated May 6, 2020
Watch the trailer for Marshall
Rating & Content Info
Why is Marshall rated PG-13? Marshall is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for mature thematic content, sexuality, violence and some strong language.
Violence: Episodes of racially-motivated violence. There is mention of lynching. Signs are seen with drawings of nooses and calls to hang a man. A man is beaten and kicked; he is shown with blood on his face. A man is punched in a bar. A person pulls out a rifle and insists that people leave. A scene of sexual violence is portrayed with a knife held to the victim’s throat. A man gets attacked in a bar and his hand is cut; some blood is visible. There is a scene of a man attempting to kill someone by throwing them off a bridge and throwing rocks at them. A woman is seen jumping off a bridge. It is implied that a man beats his wife: she is seen with a bruised shoulder and blood on her lip. Armed men interrogate and threaten a man in a public location; they fire into the air. A frightened man grabs a kitchen knife when the doorbell rings. A man alleges that he was hit in the head by police officers. There is a brief description of burned bodies. A woman tells her husband that some of her relatives were taken by the Nazis.
Sexual Content: Frequent discussion of sexual assault and sexual activity. A non-explicit depiction of sexual assault, but a knife is shown. Discussion of adultery. A portrayal of adultery that involves seeing a man remove his shirt with implied sexual activity. Sexual innuendo. Scenes of men and women hugging and kissing. A married couple kiss in bed. A man mentions an injury that led to the loss of one of his testicles. A woman tells her husband she has miscarried.
Profanity: There are approximately 55 instances of coarse or sexual language, including two sexual expletives and scatological terms as well as almost two dozen racial slurs directed at African Americans and a handful of ethnic slurs aimed at Jews. There are also a smattering of anatomical terms, mild obscenities, and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Main characters consume alcohol in clubs, bars, offices, and other locations. Men are seen smoking cigarettes.
Page last updated May 6, 2020
Marshall Parents' Guide
Thurgood Marshall gives up a lot to defend African Americans who are wrongfully charged. Why is he willing to spend so much time away from his wife, despite her medical challenges? What is important enough to you that you are willing to sacrifice for it?
Why does Sam Friedman finally agree to take the case? How does his religion factor into his decision? How do your religious or ethical beliefs give you courage in difficult circumstances?
Wrongful convictions remain a serious problem, particularly for minority defendants. For more information about this issue, check out these websites:
Loved this movie? Try these books…
The events in Marshall bear some resemblance to Harper Lee’s iconic tale of racism and the criminal justice system, To Kill a Mockingbird.
A book for older elementary school children that explores issues of racial injustice is Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
Thurgood Marshall is featured in Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America. Written by Andrea and Brian Pinkney, this non-fiction book also includes Frederick Douglass, Booker T Washington, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Barack Obama, amongst others. This book is suitable for tween readers.
For a deeper dive into the life and career of Thurgood Marshall, check out Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams. Will Haygood’s Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America intertwines American history and Marshall’s life and career. Marshall’s own words are front and center in Thurgood Marshall: His Speeches, Writings, Arguments, Opinions, and Reminiscences.
News About "Marshall"
Thurgood Marshall was the U.S.’s first African- American Supreme Court justice. He was also a civil rights advocate. This movie is based on the court case of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell, where a Black chauffeur was charged with raping the wife of his White employer.
The most recent home video release of Marshall movie is January 9, 2018. Here are some details…Marshall is releasing to home video (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy) on January 9, 2018.
Related home video titles:
For a movie that deals with similar issues, head for the classic To Kill a Mockingbird and enjoy Gregory Peck’s unforgettable performance.
The Hate U Give focuses on police shootings of unarmed African Americans and the challenges of navigating the criminal justice system.
12 Angry Men is another classic film about the American criminal justice system. This one features a minority defendant with an apparently inevitable guilty verdict, until one juror decides to look more deeply at the evidence.
Just Mercy tells the story of Bryant Stevenson, an African American lawyer who has devoted his career to assisting those on death row, especially those who have been wrongfully convicted.