So you may be vaguely aware of the fact that Chadwick Boseman is continuing his string of biopics about awesome, trailblazing black guys. Good for you Chadwick Boseman, you go Chadwick Boseman.
The latest of these of course is Marshall which seems to be getting relatively little hype despite being a decent movie about an important man with several B-list celebrities and also Kate Hudson.
Like me, you may go into Marshall thinking it’s a Thurgood Marshall biopic, but depending on your definition of the word “biopic,” you’re probably mistaken. Marshall doesn’t really tell us the complete story of Thurgood Marshall’s life. It tells the story of one particular case that Thurgood Marshall sorta kinda tried in court (he was second chair to local attorney Sam Friedman, played by Josh Gad in the movie).
The whole thing just made me crave one thing: A Thurgood Marshall miniseries.
“But Anne, couldn’t you just read a book about Thurgood Marshall?”
Well…. yes. And I probably should. Just humor my stupid millennial brain for the remainder of this post. Pretty please?
I have mixed feelings about this decision to focus the movie on one case that LegalAffairs.org refers to as a footnote of Marshall’s career. On the one hand I do believe it is better to tell one story properly than try to cram so much material into a feature that you can’t do any of that material justice (legal drama pun!!). On the other hand, I can’t help but think of all the things I want to know about Thurgood Marshall that this movie didn’t cover.
Marshall doesn’t cover Brown v. Board of Education, one of the hallmark cases of his career. Ok, a sentence or two about it on screen during the credits but that doesn’t really count. Arguably THE biggest part of Marshall’s legacy is that he was our first African-American Supreme Court Justice, yet we don’t get to see any of this process. Let’s be real, those confirmation hearings would’ve made for great drama. There’s one scene where Marshall does talk about his early life, going to Howard University because the University of Maryland was whites only, and then suing UMD after he passed the bar. That would’ve been fun to see.
So what does Marshall cover exactly? A To Kill a Mockingbird-esque case called Connecticut v. Spell. And I don’t hate the filmmakers for this choice. I liked that they used their film as an opportunity to educate the world about a lesser known case. I liked how Marshall reminded us racism exists in the Northeast too. I liked that they made a movie about a barely-competent Jewish man having to learn criminal law from Marshall, sorta turning the white savior complex on its head, albeit semi-enforcing it as well. I’m glad I learned about this case, but I just want more.
The only logical answer is to make Marshall a mini-series. If you tried to cover everything interesting in two hours, the movie would be crap. The movie that was actually made does a good job of telling the story they decided to tell, but still leaves a lot to be desired. I imagine this is a conundrum that applies to pretty much any fascinating historical figure. Maybe we should just accept that anyone worth making a biopic about can’t possibly be summed up in two hours. So what should it look like? Or more accurately, what would it look like if I made all these decisions after doing no research besides reading Thurgood Marshall’s Wikipedia and Googling a few things I found there?
Personally, I would use the Senate confirmation trials as my frame for the whole thing. Since this is essentially going to be a cross-examination of Thurgood and his career, there’s plenty of opportunities to flashback to prior cases in his career. If Sidney Portier is game for it, he gets the role of Old Thurgood, largely because he made a great Thurgood Marshall in the miniseries Separate But Equal. Granted he’s older now than the real Thurgood would’ve been when he was confirmed as a justice, but fuck that. Sidney Portier is timeless.
So in each episode, you’ll have two plotlines: one having to do with some senator trying to block Marshall’s appointment, one having to do with a younger Marshall fighting injustice. Because Marshall was the type to listen to his own conscience moreso than the letter of the law, this is going to be the problem that people will have, or maybe claim to have when in reality they’re just racist. Then we’ll get flashbacks to a case where the law was straight up wrong, and Thurgood had to fight it. The flashbacks will help expose why older Thurgood holds the views he has. Younger Thurgoods will played by a combination of Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman.
Through flashbacks we’ll see high school Thurgood experiencing segregated public schools first hand. We’ll see him befriending Langston Hughes at Howard. We’ll see him sue UMD. Of course we’ll see Connecticut v. Spell, because there’s no denying that shit was interesting. We’ll see his first Supreme Court Case, Chambers v. Florida. We’ll see Browder v. Gayle where he fought to end the Montgomery bus boycott. We’ll have to see at least one of the cases he lost too, how it crushed him initially but he rose above it, letting defeat motivate him to chase more victories. Lyons v. Hugo can do that. Damn straight we’re going to see Brown v. Board of Education, that goes without saying. We’ll also see him deal with the death of his wife the year after this landmark victory and how he fell in love with Cissy Marshall shortly thereafter, dealing with the challenges of being in an interracial relationship. In our final episode, Marshall is finally approved and gets to make history (again).
The more I Google, the more I’m convinced you freaking NEED a solid 8-10 hours to really do Thurgood Marshall justice (…that’s the last legal pun I promise). Miniseries should be THE medium of choice for screen adaptations of historical figures. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna be pretty disappointed in myself in my whole legacy can be adequately summed up in 2 hours.