The new Thurgood ‘Marshall’ movie is a thrilling What-Had-Happened-Was Superstar Chadwick Boseman and director Reggie Hudlin talk colorism and the black film renaissance

Chadwick Boseman remembers the exact moment when he understood why the work he was doing — not just the grabbing of marquees, not just working alongside Hollywood’s top talent, not just surprising critics with how easily he melts into a role of some of the world’s most famous men — was cemented.

He was on the set of Draft Day, a 2014 sports drama about the Cleveland Browns and its general manager (Kevin Costner) who wants to turn around his consistently losing team with a hot draft pick. “When you’re doing a car shot,” Boseman says, leaning in and slightly pushing back the sleeves of his sharp, black bomber, “you’re following the lead car.” He said they stopped in front of the projects. “I get out of the car, and somebody says, ‘Yo, that’s that dude from that baseball movie outside, right?!’ Everybody in the projects came outside, and they were like, ‘Hey, hey, hey! I got your movie on DVD in the house!’ The DVD hadn’t come out yet. They were like, ‘It didn’t come out yet? Oh, no, no. We didn’t mean it that way. But look — I saw it.’ ” He says that’s what it’s all about. “You want people to appreciate what you’ve been doing.”

This week, Boseman’s latest film, Marshall, opens. Once again, the actor takes on a role of a historical, powerful-in-his-field man. He’s portrayed baseball and civil rights icon Jackie Robinson and the influential James Brown. Now he’s legendary lawyer and eventual Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.

It’s an interesting casting, to be sure. Part of Marshall’s story is rooted in his light skin. It was a privilege. Marshall himself was the highest of yellows, and his skin color — on the verge of passable — was unmissable. Boseman, on the other hand is decidedly black, with striking chocolate skin — and that factor almost prevented him from even going after the role.

It’s an interesting casting, to be sure. Part of Marshall’s story is rooted in his light skin. It was a privilege.

Reginald Hudlin, the film’s director, said it’s been a hot topic, even among his close circle. “I’ve had friends who admitted to me, ‘I went in going I don’t know if this casting works.’ And they also have admitted, within 20 seconds, that concern was gone, it had never occurred to them. Because Chadwick’s performance is the exact spirit of Thurgood Marshall. He said that people who have clerked under Marshall, who knew him intimately, are more than satisfied. They’re like, ‘Oh, my God, how did you capture all those little nuances of his personality? You guys nailed it.’ To have that affirmed by people who have firsthand knowledge is a huge relief.”


But Marshall isn’t a biopic. It’s a dissection of one of the best legal minds in American history. And as he has done in his previous biographical work, you stop wondering about the actor at all, let alone the shade of his skin. “If this was a cradle-to-grave story about Marshall, obviously we would have to deal with his complexion,” said Boseman, who is also credited as a producer on the film. “Right now, we’re dealing with one case. He’s walking into this courtroom as a black man. He’s not a black man passing as a white man. He didn’t try to pass as a white man. He showed up as the black attorney, right? He showed up as a black man and got gagged for being black, right?”

“They didn’t say,” Boseman stops to laugh, “ ‘We’re going to gag you because you’re light-skinned-ded.’ ”

Marshall, at its best, is an examination of Marshall’s brilliance. It’s an up-close, deep dive into how Marshall changed the course of American history. “Everything is a risk,” Boseman said. “No matter what movie you do, it’s a risk. … It’s also a risk, if you look like the person, to play the role because then there’s the pressure of doing certain things a certain way.”

The court case used to examine Marshall’s legal savvy is relatively unknown — a black man in Connecticut (Sterling K. Brown) is accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson) — and Marshall is stripped of his voice. He’s told by a racist judge that he can’t speak in the courtroom. He couldn’t speak on behalf of his client at all. Instead, he had to employ Sam Friedman, an insurance lawyer who is a white Jewish man (Josh Gad), and teach him how to try this case. There’s a tone of Mighty Whitey here, to be sure, intermingled with a lesson on the importance of allies. Timely.

That said, it’s Boseman’s film. And not for nothing, he absolutely nails it. In four short years, the Howard University-educated Boseman has positioned himself as a force. He’s a box-office draw, and at the top of next year he leads the highly anticipated Black Panther, which surely will change the course of Hollywood, or at least continue to challenge the notion that films with predominantly black casts don’t travel internationally.

Not that Boseman isn’t up for the challenge. He’s the black man — sometimes he’s by himself — gracing Vanity Fair-like magazine gatefold layouts representing the next biggest thing in Hollywood. His representation is undeniable. And he understands his worth.


This film feels very much like 2017. It takes place in December 1940, a time when the NAACP was concentrating on its litigation in the South, suing over voting rights and equal pay for black teachers and segregation in higher education. But in the North, issues abounded as well — in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for example, there was a 1933 law that banned racial discrimination in public places, and it went unenforced in 1940. Marshall was 32 years old at the time and just beginning the work that would change the lives of black Americans for generations to come.

That notion of public discrimination is tested constantly — turn to any current news headline or cable TV news lower third for quick proof. And Marshall the movie sometimes feels like a thrilling, current-day, true-life drama. Often, when we talk about the historic work the NAACP did with Marshall as its chief legal brain trust, we think about the work done south of the Mason-Dixon line. But this case is set in a conservative white Connecticut town — away from the hard-and-fast Jim Crow laws that crippled black folks who lived in American Southern states.

“That was very much our intent. ‘Why did you choose this case? Why didn’t you do him as a Supreme Court justice? How come you didn’t do Brown v. Board of Education? Those are all worthy stories, stories that the public thinks they know — ‘Oh, I learned about Brown in fifth grade. I got that.’ You don’t got this,” Hudlin said. “You don’t know this case, you don’t know the outcome of this case, which gives me the chance to be true to genre. Because I think genre is what saves these movies from being medicine movies, which I despise. You want to make a movie that works if it wasn’t Thurgood Marshall. If Joe Blow was against the odds in this legal case, does the movie still work?”

It does. “This crime has all these broader implications, economic implications, for black folk. And for the institution of the NAACP. The truth is messy. Everyone comes into the case with their own particular set of -isms,” Hudlin said. “The challenge is, do you respect the process of the legal system to get to uncomfortable truths? And do you have enough personal integrity to acknowledge uncomfortable truths as they emerge, that don’t fit your preconceived notions? That’s how America works, you know?”


This film premieres right at the start of Hollywood’s award season preseason. In the fourth quarter of each year, we’ve come to expect the year’s best to be presented, or some of the year’s most generously budgeted films to hit the big screen.

But Marshall, perhaps, carries a bigger weight. It feels like a tipoff of a major moment for black creatives both behind and in front of the camera. This is the first time we’ve seen so many black directors working on films of this magnitude and at this level. Coming soon after this film are projects by directors Ava DuVernay (A Wrinkle In Time) and Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), and Gina Prince-Bythewood is writing and directing Spider-Man spinoff Silver & Black. And the list goes on.

“He showed up as a black man and got gagged for being black. They didn’t say, ‘We’re going to gag you because you’re light-skinned-ded.’ ” — Chadwick Boseman

“I would say like three, maybe four years ago … in separate moments … we’ve talked about what’s been happening over the past few years. And I remember leaving several of those conversations, and we said, ‘Let’s not say it publicly, but we’re in the renaissance,’ ” Boseman says. “Let’s not say it publicly, because if we say it, then people will think we’re happy with it. That we’re satisfied with that. So let’s not ever actually say it. I think now we’re at a point where there’s no point in not saying it, because it’s obvious that this is a different moment.”

This is a huge moment, but it comes with questions — plenty of them.

“My bigger-picture analysis is that there are 20-year cycles,” said Hudlin. “You have this explosion in the 1970s with the blaxploitation movement, which created a set of stars and a set of icons so powerful they still resonate today. You can say Shaft, you can say Superfly, you can say Foxy Brown, and those things still mean things to people 40 years later.” He said that then there was a five- or 10-year period, a kind of collapsing, where basically in the ’80s you have Eddie Murphy and Prince. They don’t have folks really able to make movies. “Then, in the ’90s, there was that explosion of Spike Lee, and myself, and John Singleton. Those films were different from the movies of the ’70s. More personal, you know?”

He said blacks were telling their own stories, and there were greater production values. “And then like a 10-year period, a shutdown, and really you have Tyler Perry. And now this new wave, right? And when you look at all three of these periods, the thing is, the movies get bigger, they get more varied in their subject matter, and the production value keeps increasing. When you look at the bounty of black images, of black filmmakers working in film and television — no. We’ve never had it this good. We’ve never had material this rich, and to me, the outstanding question is, when does it no longer become a cycle and becomes a fixture and part of the entertainment landscape?”

As they say on social media, that’s a question that needs an answer.

Here’s why black teachers are so important to education and to our children ‘Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflection From Black Teachers’ reinforces necessity to get more of them in classrooms

“Teachers of color bring benefits to classrooms beyond content knowledge and pedagogy.”

This is what a recent study from The Education Trust, a national nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes high academic achievement, claims. And it has data to back it up.

Teachers of color represent only 18 percent of the teaching population in the United States, and black teachers are 7 percent of the teaching population, according to Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflection From Black Teachers, a report published late last year that gives voice to black teachers.

And yet today more than ever, the report rings true throughout America’s schools. In the midst of the personal accounts from teachers, the report cites the reasons that continuing to recruit teachers of color, as well as identifying and creating more ways to retain them, is important. It also explains the impact that black teachers have on students and the relevance of establishing relationships with students and parents.

According to its website, The Education Trust promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels, prekindergarten through college. Its goal is to “close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young people — especially those from low-income families or who are Black, Latino, or American Indian — to lives on the margins of the American mainstream.”

These excerpts below have heightened relevance and meaning during National Teacher Appreciation Week:


“The difference I would like to make is a difference that my fifth-grade teacher, an African American woman, made [for] me,” says an elementary teacher from Oakland, California, who is also a Black woman.

She credits that teacher with instilling in her a love of math, but also with fostering the self-confidence that would buoy her when other teachers doubted her ability. Now, she tries to give all her students — and especially her Black students — that same assurance.

“I make sure I get to know each and every one of my kids, and let them know that they can do it.”

This teacher experienced what research has shown: As role models, parental figures and advocates, they can build relationships with students of color that help those students feel connected to their schools. And they are more likely to be able to enhance cultural understanding among white colleagues, teachers and students. Acting as “warm demanders,” they more frequently hold high expectations for all students and use connections with students to establish structured classroom discipline. Furthermore, they are more likely to teach in high-need schools that predominantly serve students of color and low-income students. Black teachers especially are more likely to stay in schools serving black students.

State and district leaders recognize the need to diversify the teacher workforce and are working to recruit more black and Hispanic teachers. And their efforts may be paying off: Research shows that the percentage of teachers of color in the workforce grew at twice the rate of white teachers from 1987 to 2012.

But while leaders have been busy trying to pour teachers of color into the profession, they have not plugged the drain through which too many exit. Indeed, teachers of color are exiting the profession at higher rates than other teachers.

Simply recruiting more teachers of color only gets them in the door; we must pay equal attention to creating the conditions to keep them. And while it is critical to diversify the teaching force, just having a black or Hispanic teacher in the classroom isn’t enough. They must be strong teachers, so diversity and excellence go hand in hand. Holding onto teachers of color, though, requires education leaders to understand their unique experiences and perspectives. And who better to learn from than the teachers themselves.

In March 2015, our research team set out to hear from teachers color, hosting a series of focus groups with black and Latino teachers around the country. We used data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS, 2012) to target states and districts with high numbers of teachers of color and solicited participants through schools, districts, and teacher organizations.

Our goal: to better understand their unique experiences, why they teach, their perspectives on the state of education, what they believe they bring to the classroom and the field, and challenges they may experience in the workplace because of their race. In this brief, we present findings from our discussions with black teachers. In forthcoming work, we will share what we heard from Latino teachers, as well.

The full report is worth reading.

Study proves black teachers have a significant impact on black students Black students with at least one black teacher are more inclined to continue education

May 8 kicks off National Teacher Appreciation Week, a celebration set aside to formally recognize educators. Traditionally, the observance occurs the first week in May. This year the annual celebration was moved, so The Undefeated will preview the week with inspiring stories centered on education, and next week we will continue with highlights of teachers and those who work in the field.


The relationship between black students and black teachers is saving academic careers, and a new study is out to prove it.

The study, The Long Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers, conducted by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, found that low-income black students who have had at least one black teacher during their early academic career have higher chances of graduating from high school and attending college.

Out of the 100,000 black students entering third grade in North Carolina public schools between 2001 and 2005 whom the study focused on, nearly 13 percent dropped out of high school while the remainder of students finished high school, but expressed no interest in attending college. The students who had at least one black teacher throughout those years were less likely to drop out, and more likely to express interest in college (18 percent). Black male students from low-income families who were exposed to at least one black teacher were the highest group to express interest in college (29 percent).

“Black students matched to black teachers have been shown to have higher test scores, but we wanted to know if these student-teacher racial matches had longer-lasting benefits,” said Nicholas Papageorge, the study’s co-author and an assistant professor in the department of economics at Johns Hopkins. “We found the answer is a resounding yes. We’re seeing spending just one year with a teacher of the same race can move the dial on one of the most frustratingly persistent gaps in educational attainment — that of low-income black boys. It not only moves the dial, it moves the dial in a powerful way.”

In cases of black children from low-income families who were introduced to at least one black teacher between third and fifth grades, the likelihood of dropping out of school decreased to 29 percent. For black male students from low-income families who were introduced to at least one black teacher between third and fifth grades, the probability fell to 39 percent.

To validate their most recent findings, the study’s researchers aligned their work with that of Project STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio), a study conducted in Tennessee in the 1980s that focused on a class size reduction. Black students who entered kindergarten were randomly assigned to various class sizes, and their learning patterns were monitored. The researchers’ findings about black students paired with black teachers were consistent with their own research, as 15 percent of black students in Project STAR who had at least one black teacher from kindergarten to third grade were less likely to drop out of school.

Papageorge says ensuring the success of a larger number of low-income black students is as simple as schools seeing to it that these students have access to at least one black teacher, beginning early in their academic careers.

“This isn’t a situation where students need two, three or four black teachers to make a difference,” Papageorge said. “This could be implementable tomorrow. You could literally go into a school right now and switch around the rosters so that every black child gets to face a black teacher.”