John Thomas

“Did you rape her?” “No sir, I did not.” A direct question and a direct answer. But what about the indirect? The NAACP has sent its only black attorney, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman), to Greenwich, Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur accused of raping his employer’s wife and then tossing her body off a bridge into a reservoir. The accused, Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) is adamant, he did not rape Ms. Strubing (Kate Hudson).

Marshall is unable to represent a client in Connecticut so a local attorney, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) is engaged to represent Spell with Marshall as his guide. Why does Friedman need a guide? – because he not a criminal lawyer, he is a civil attorney who deals with insurance claims and parking tickets. He also has no interest in the case nor clue as to how to proceed.

Everyone assembles in the court room to meet the prosecuting attorney and Judge Foster (James Cromwell). Foster has a scowl on his face as he approaches his chair. When he sees two “people of color” in his courtroom with one of them accused of raping a fine upstanding white member of the community, his scowl turns to barely masked rage. He commands Marshall not to speak in his courtroom – not even one word. That’s a tough guideline for a lawyer.

But Marshall is clever, so he and Friedman communicate with one another through notes and nods. The next hurdle for the attorneys is jury selection; and in an all-white upper-class community that is more than just a hurdle – it’s a mountain to climb. This challenge is also resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Let the trial begin.

Witnesses are called to give their testimony; however, because no one actually saw the crime being committed their comments are confined to what they think may have happened. But then, how wrong could their opinions be – after all the chauffeur is black. By the time the police chief is put on the stand, Friedman is warming up to the case and begins to be a little more assertive. He catches the chief making disqualifying statements, and feels proud of himself for doing so.

Then it’s time for the victim to appear. Ms. Strubing, leaning on the arm of her husband advances very slowly towards the witness box. She has a doleful expression on her carefully made-up face. The scene of the crime is revisited using charts and photographs – this is where the chauffeur parked so the victim could be pulled from the car and thrown over the bridge into the water. Some of this testimony even Foster questions and won’t overturn. Then the jury has its moment.

In retrospect, it might have been better at the outset of Marshall’s interview of Spell if he had rephrased his question about the crime. He should have asked, “Did you have sex with Ms. Strubing?” The answer might not have been, “No sir, I did not,” but something quite different. If one seeks the correct answer, they must ask the correct question.

Directed by Reginald Hudlin ‘Marshall’ is a “should see” film that runs 118 minutes



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