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.

LeBron James wants to beat up Kyrie Irving and other news of the week The Week That Was July 24 – 28

Monday 07.24.17

President Donald Trump, when asked about his thoughts on health care reform, told a female reporter to be “quiet.” President Ron Burgundy Trump later read from a teleprompter that the Affordable Care Act has wreaked havoc over “the last 17 years.” The internet was still upset that Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps wasn’t eaten by a shark. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who once said slain 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed because he dressed like a “gangsta,” said 36-year-old Jared Kushner “looks like a high school senior.” In Georgia news, a small airplane modeled to look like a Nazi Germany aircraft, complete with a swastika on the tail, landed on a state highway; the plane’s pilot said the Nazi design was “just for fun.” 2 Fast 2 Furious director John Singleton, not known for bad decisions, said there’s nothing wrong with singer R. Kelly keeping a sex cult because the occupants are “adult women.” Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price cursed out an old man last month because the 62-year-old, Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley, said, “Yuck.” If Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James were to come face-to-face with teammate Kyrie Irving, he’d reportedly be tempted to “beat his ass.”

Tuesday 07.25.17

James booed the report. The environment is in such trouble that even holy water has been shut off by the Vatican. A New York City barber who posted on social media that “N—-s taking shots can’t stop me” was fatally shot in the head. Former House Speaker John Boehner, who once held a meaningless vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act just so freshman lawmakers could vote on it, said Republicans will never replace the health care law. Tech CEOs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are currently beefing over whether or not robots will eventually kill humans. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was tricked into talking about “pig manure as a power source” with a Russian (of course) man posing as Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. Twin sisters from Australia, who’ve spent over $200,000 on plastic surgery to look more alike, want to get pregnant by their shared boyfriend at the same time. Chicago officials are trying to control their rat problem by making the rodents infertile. Former Dallas Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead was cut from the team a day before police realized they had the “wrong guy.” Former Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, who once almost died on the job, is returning to the Broncos. Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick got a job before Colin Kaepernick. A Michigan man suing Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green for allegedly hitting him in the face last summer said, “I still feel his hand on my jaw.” A retired NFL player is suing Attorney General Jeff Sessions over weed.

Wednesday 07.26.17

The Defense Department, responsible for national security and the military, was caught off guard by a Trump tweet invoking national security and the military. Meanwhile, the U.S. armed forces spend at least 10 times as much on erectile dysfunction pills as they do on gender-transition-related medical treatment. A Michigan man was sentenced to two years of probation for wrapping a cat in duct tape; a person at the man’s home said the tape was used to stop the cat from itching. A self-described journalist and comedian created a list of places where Ohio residents and Cavs fans could burn the jersey of Irving. Arthur Lambright, the former boyfriend of the mother of LeBron James and best known as “Da Real Lambo,” has sided with Irving in the two teammates’ dispute. Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, realizing he’s the “only black person in this scary movie,” was worried about ghosts while sleeping in front of his locker room. Future emergency room admittees are now playing “soap hockey.” Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, putting his $71.25 million contract to good use, paid a dive team to retrieve a $100,000 earring he lost while Jet Skiing. NCAA investigators were shocked to learn that black men get their hair cut more than once a month.

Thursday 07.27.17

Sessions, the president’s proverbial punching bag the past week, said Trump’s criticism is “kind of hurtful.” A New Jersey man was arrested after being accused of not paying nearly $88,000 in tolls. The Washington Nationals hit the most home runs in one inning in MLB history, but all attention was paid to a pigeon that made its way on the field. LaVar Ball is telling women to stay in their lanes again. A market research study found that 26 percent of NFL fans who watched less football last season did so because of national anthem protests; that percentage, though, represented roughly 287 people. Kid Rock finally stopped lying about running for U.S. Senate. Instead of signing Kaepernick, who’s been to the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens signed arena league quarterback David Olson. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith received $2 million just for showing up to work. White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who earlier in the day accused chief of staff Reince Priebus of feloniously “leaking” the Mooch’s financial disclosure form, called Priebus a “a f—ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac” and alleged that chief strategist Steve Bannon engages in autofellatio. Houston Rockets guard and 2017 MVP runner-up James Harden reportedly had his jersey retired at a Houston strip club.

Friday 07.28.17

Republican lawmakers failed (again) to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act. A New York City couple jumped to their deaths because “both have medical issues, we just can’t afford the health care.” The hosts of Fox & Friends, critical of “Obamacare,” unwittingly discovered the core definition of health insurance, stating that “the healthy people are paying for the sick people.” Some guy has already announced his plans to run for president in 2020. Trump, an avid Liam Neeson fan, told undocumented immigrants, “We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you, and we will deport you.” The NFL, purportedly serious about brain research, meddled its way out of paying $16 million to the National Institutes of Health. The Tennessee Titans released guard Sebastian Tretola five days after he was shot.

Kevin Powell in awkward spot over Tupac movie Former journalist says his work from ‘Vibe’ magazine was lifted

Things did not get off to a great start for All Eyez On Me, the Tupac Shakur biopic that had been hotly anticipated for years. Ever since the death of Shakur’s mother, Afeni, last May, there were concerns about how her son’s legacy and likeness would be used. She was the main gatekeeper of his message and identity after he was killed. The main concern was that the movie would either just be awful or, perhaps worse, counterfactual or ahistorical. Turns out, it was a bit of both.

Now, Kevin Powell, a former hip-hop journalist who is now an author and public speaker, says he plans to sue the producers and writers of the film, effectively for lifting his work with no compensation. He issued a statement Friday on Facebook.

This is nothing short of a deathblow to this film, from a credibility standpoint. When it was first released last week, the debut was marred by the fact that Jada Pinkett Smith, Pac’s longtime close friend, basically said that most of the on-screen relationship in the movie was a lie. She was understanding and graceful about her misgivings, but everyone understood that without her cosign, nobody could take it seriously.

Which was unfortunate more than anything. We all wanted to love this film. It many respects, it was more important than some of these other biopics because of, obviously, the subject of the film. No one wanted to know that the actual people involved in his life didn’t respect it or like it.

To follow that up, legendary movie director John Singleton said the biopic was worse than Lifetime’s attempt to document Aaliyah’s life, career and death — widely considered a complete mockery of her history. Mind you, Singleton was supposed to direct this Tupac movie, so his shade comes with a tad more bias than most. Nonetheless, it’s been one thing after another for director Benny Boom on this flick. All Eyez On Me earned $27 million its first weekend and is in theaters now.

But along with this accusation came an admission that fundamentally affects the overall lens through which we see Tupac’s life. In his complaint, Powell basically admits that he made a decent portion of those stories up, including a central figure who appears in the film named Nigel. Talk about awkward. No one wants to see their work get stolen, but to basically say the reason you knew why is because they passed on a lie that you created has to be a sinking feeling.

Whether or not Powell wins this case I don’t know, but if one of the central pieces of canon in the legacy of one of our most celebrated artists is based on a lie that even he didn’t know about, what are we to believe overall? Now we know why Afeni fought so hard to keep her son’s truth in the forefront.

Summer TV 2017: 13 cool shows to dive into when the summer sun gets too hot A crack origin story, rowdy manicurists, raucous NFL stars — Issa summer of the good, the bad, and the boujee

The dog days of summer will soon be upon us, which, for many of us, means escaping sticky heat and stifling humidity by heading for more air-conditioned climates, especially ones with screens. Of course it’s blockbuster season, but if you just can’t pull yourself from the sofa, there’s a plethora of summer TV options too. Now that Underground and Pitch have both been canceled, perhaps you can find a new favorite. Here are a few series, both new and returning, that merit some attention, if not straight-up bingeing.

Still Star-Crossed

Premieres: May 31

Where: ABC

Shonda Rhimes’ latest offering, Still Star-Crossed, is off to a bit of a rocky start ratingswise, but it’s certainly an interesting premise. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Melinda Taub (who also writes for TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee), Rhimes picks up where The Bard left off with Romeo and Juliet, imagining a war between the rival Montague and Capulet families of Verona, Italy, after the deaths of their teenage star-crossed lovers. Get it? Still star-crossed?

Orange Is the New Black

Premieres: June 9

Where: Netflix

Finally, the fifth season of one of Netflix’s best shows, Orange is the New Black, is returning, and it does not disappoint. The series that focuses on an all-female prison picks up the narrative right back where we left it: seeing an inmate holding a gun over a guard and ready to shoot. One character we get to really see some depth from this year is Danielle Brooks’ Tasty, who really emerges and gives us emotional complexity like we haven’t witnessed before. We’ve seen half of the new season so far and won’t give away any spoilers, but you’ll likely binge-watch all the new episodes in one fell swoop. Per usual.

Claws

Premieres: June 11

Where: TNT

As NBA Finals melodrama dies down, Claws is featuring more action than LeBron and ’nem could ever hope to make good on. This new series stars Niecy Nash as a woman with aspirations greater than what’s in front of her. Prepare for much pearl-clutching and jaw-dropping and oh-my-goshing while you take in this completely unpredictable series. It will keep you guessing, and it will have you cheering for characters you didn’t expect to shake pompoms for.

Queen Sugar

Premieres: June 20-21 (two-night premiere)

Where: OWN

Well, Charley Bordelon (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) has dumped her loser husband — or started moving in that direction, anyhow — and she’s this close to getting her own sugar refinery. What could possibly go wrong? While Queen Sugar continues to examine family dynamics and wealth, it’s also continuing its look at a Louisiana justice system that is especially hard on young black men and boys and the people who care for them. Oh, and the fabulous Aunt Vi (Tina Lifford) remains forever young at heart — this season she’s dipping out in a crop top!

G.L.O.W.

Premieres: June 23

Where: Netflix

Holy Lycra and blue eye shadow, what do we have here? Netflix’s new series G.L.O.W. stars Alison Brie as Ruth Wilder, an actress in 1980s Los Angeles who just wants a decent part for once. We’re still demanding this for actresses now — the ’80s must have been rough. Anyhow, Miss Ruth finds her way into the world of ladies’ wrestling, a world filled with drama, rivalries and some seriously scary athletes. It also features Britney Young and Sydelle Noel.

Power

Premieres: June 25

Where: Starz

The countdown for the return of Power, of one of the sexiest, most tweet-able series to ever hit flat-screens has finally begun. We last left Ghost (Omari Hardwick) as he was headed to prison for a murder he actually didn’t commit (not that he’s above catching a body, though). Chances are good he won’t be locked up for very long. Catch up on all of last season, here.

All or Nothing: A Season with the L.A. Rams

Premieres: June 30

Where: Amazon Prime

If HBO’s Hard Knocks is a show all about optimism as it winds through the early days of training camp (when everyone has a shot) toward the nail-biting of roster cuts, All or Nothing is decidedly more … bleak. Well, it is this season, as it looks backward on the Rams’ awful, terrible, no-good, very bad 4-12 season. There’s a high probability that you can watch and comfort yourself with this thought: At least my team doesn’t suck as much as those guys. Also: Jeff Fisher gets fired.

Snowfall

Premieres: July 5

Where: FX

If there’s a shop that knows what to do with a compelling, offbeat limited series, it’s FX. So far, the chapter-iffic ratings bonanzas that FX has enjoyed have come from American Horror Story and Feud creator Ryan Murphy and, of course, Noah Hawley’s Fargo, but Snowfall is a sumptuously colored new drama from co-creators Eric Amadio, John Singleton and Dave Andron examining the beginnings of crack cocaine in 1983 Los Angeles. Snowfall follows the crack epidemic from multiple angles: through the eyes of a small-time weed dealer who’s trying to grow his business, a Mexican wrestler, a crime lord’s daughter and a CIA operative.

Insecure

Premieres: July 23

Where: HBO

Lawrence, Lawrence, Lawrence. And Issa. Why do y’all do the things that y’all do? The closing seconds of Issa Rae’s first season of Insecure divided us — for the most part — along gender lines, and this new season is ripe for a group watch. Will Lawrence and Issa get back together? Time will tell. But, Issa, girl, you’ve got some things to atone for.

Ballers

Premieres: July 23

Where: HBO

Dwayne Johnson’s show, Ballers, about life after football, hit its stride last season: We got to see some deep dives from actors like London Brown, who portrays the show’s trifling character, Reggie. (You know you’re trifling, Reggie.) We’re also looking forward to seeing the dramatic complexities that John David Washington excellently pulls off. Catch up on last season, here.

Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Premieres: Aug. 8

Where: HBO

It almost doesn’t matter which team is featured on this most excellent docuseries, Hard Knocks, which HBO puts together during every preseason — you have to watch. It’s such a good behind-the-scenes, in-the-locker-room and in-the-coach’s-office look at life in the NFL. This season’s team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: all eyes on embattled quarterback Jameis Winston.

Marvel’s The Defenders

Premieres: Aug. 18

Where: Netflix

Because everything in the comic book universe is intertwined with everything else in it, we get Marvel’s The Defenders, which is sort of like the Netflix series version of Avengers but with different heroes. In this case, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Iron Fist will unite their crime-fighting powers. Highlight: Rosario Dawson returns as nurse Claire Temple, one of the characters who provides the glue linking all of these series together in the first place.

Survivor’s Remorse

Premieres: TBA

Where: Starz

Survivor’s Remorse writers give themselves plenty to work with in the upcoming fourth season. The hit comedy follows the exploits of Atlanta pro basketball star Cam Calloway (Jessie T. Usher) and his family, and we left off with M-Chuck (Erica Ash) in Boston seeking answers about her father, the man who raped her mother, Cassie (Tichina Arnold). This season, the Calloways will have some new company: Isaiah Washington and Vanessa Bell Calloway join the cast: Washington portrays Cam’s father, and Calloway plays the mother of Missy (Teyonah Parris). Catch up on last season here.

On this day in black history: Smokey Robinson is born, John Singleton nominated for an Oscar, Tuskegee Airmen are here and more Black History Month: The Undefeated Edition Feb. 19

1940 – Happy birthday, Smokey Robinson
William “Smokey” Robinson is born in 1940 in Detroit. Robinson was ranked 20th on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Singers, and was once called America’s “greatest living poet” by Bob Dylan. He wrote some of R&B’s most classic love songs by groups such as The Temptations and The Supremes. He sang hits such as “Cruisin,” “Tears of a Clown” and “Ooo Baby Baby.”

1942 – Tuskegee Airmen initiated
The Tuskegee Airmen are initiated into the armed forces. They were the first African-American flying unit in the U.S. military, and flew 1,578 missions and won more than 850 medals.

1992 – John Singleton nominated for Oscar for Boyz N the Hood
John Singleton is nominated for his debut film Boyz N the Hood (1991). He was the youngest African-American and, at 24, the youngest person to be nominated for the Academy Award for best director. Singleton was also nominated for the Academy Award for best screenplay.

2002 – Vonetta Flowers wins gold
Bobsledder Vonetta Flowers becomes the first black person to win a gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Flowers started as a track and field star, but eventually retired from the sport and switched to bobsledding.