Chadwick Boseman in “Marshall,” directed by Reginald Hudlin and opening Oct. 13. Credit Barry Wetcher/Open Road Films
Thurgood Marshall would be a good candidate for a dusty and dutiful biographical drama, one surveying his central role in Brown v. Board of Education, the towering 1954 civil rights landmark, and his years as the Supreme Court’s first black justice.
That is not the movie the director Reginald Hudlin wanted to make. He had in mind a brisk, entertaining and urgent look at a single episode early in Marshall’s career.
“It’s not a cradle-to-grave biopic,” Mr. Hudlin said of the film, which is about a lurid rape trial the lawyer handled in 1941, when he was just 32. “It’s a courtroom thriller,” he said. “It’s a whodunit.”
Marshall is portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, who has starred in more comprehensive biographical dramas, playing Jackie Robinson in “42” and James Brown in “Get on Up.” In the new film, Mr. Boseman said, he was focused on his subject at a formative moment. “I wanted to capture his personality, his swagger, his love of life, his sense of humor,” Mr. Boseman said. “And his ambition.”
“Marshall” (due Oct. 13) arrives at a combustible time, and it has a message. “We are at a time when the country is literally being torn apart,” Mr. Hudlin said. “Black voices constantly fighting to be heard is tragically very, very current.”
Protest and resistance are important, he said. But so is working within the system. “We can’t just fight the power,” Mr. Hudlin said. “We have to be the power. That’s what Thurgood Marshall was. He was a guy who fulfilled the promise of the Constitution.”
Thurgood Marshall Credit Cornell Capa/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
The film’s version of the future justice, who died in 1993, is both realistic and relentless. “The Constitution was not written for us,” Marshall says. “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.”
In his later years, he came to be known as a superb appellate lawyer and litigation tactician. But his early career was spent in trial courts, mostly in the South, where he fought for racial justice in hostile territory, relying on humor, charm, outrage, guile and stone-cold courage.
In a twist, the film focuses on a trial in Bridgeport, Conn., where Marshall had to hone and adapt his talents to address a social structure and legal system that was stacked against black defendants in less obvious ways than in the Deep South. Mr. Boseman said the setting makes the film all the more timely. “It pinpoints the more subtle version of how racism affects America,” he said.
The defendant, Joseph Spell, played by Sterling K. Brown (the prosecutor Christopher Darden in “The People vs. O.J. Simpson”), was a black butler and chauffeur. He was accused of rape and kidnapping by his employer, Eleanor Strubing, a white socialite from Greenwich, Conn., played by Kate Hudson. The case captivated the New York tabloids and led rich white families in affluent New York suburbs to fire their black servants.
In “Devil in the Grove,” which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, Gilbert King wrote about Marshall’s heroic trial work. “Across the South,” Mr. King wrote, “in their darkest, most demoralizing hours, when falsely accused men sat in jails, when women and children stood before the ashy ruins of mob-torched homes, the spirits of black citizens would be lifted with two words whispered in defiance and hope: ‘Thurgood’s coming.’” (A film adaptation of “Devil in the Grove,” which focuses on a different case, is in the works.)
“Marshall” touches on some of those Southern cases, too, and in places the legal thriller is tinged with touches of other genres. “I also kind of see it as a western,” Mr. Hudlin said. “It’s a movie about Thurgood Marshall. And he’s the marshal. He’s like Shane. This guy goes from town to town dispensing justice. So that title was chose very deliberately because that really sums up that era of his life.”
If the film is part courtroom drama and part western, it is also buddy movie. Marshall’s local counsel, Samuel Friedman, played by Josh Gad, is a white, Jewish insurance defense lawyer with modest skills beyond a knack for spotting technicalities. Marshall takes him in hand and transforms him, sometimes playfully and sometimes forcefully.
“At the beginning of this movie,” Mr. Boseman said, “Sam Friedman is not in a place where he is willing to take a stand. It’s Thurgood Marshall that smacks Sam on the top of the head and says: ‘This is you. This is your injustice. This does touch you.’”
“I love the movie for that reason,” he continued. “It doesn’t allow you as an audience member, no matter what color you are, to hide from the issues because ultimately we see ourselves in the characters in the movies we go see.”
Mr. Hudlin said his film was about allies. “When I think specifically about the black-Jewish alliance and how many things it’s done for this country — in government, in the arts — that partnership is a little frayed,” he explained. “This movie celebrates the achievements of that partnership.”
“Marshall” has elements of yet another genre. It is a sort of origin story, of a legal superhero. Justice Elena Kagan, who served as a law clerk to Justice Marshall, has called him “the greatest lawyer of the 20th century.”
“Bar none,” she added. “Not even a close contest.”
Mr. Hudlin and Mr. Boseman know something about superheroes. Mr. Hudlin spent years writing “Black Panther,” the Marvel comic, and Mr. Boseman played the character in “Captain America: Civil War” and next year’s “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” The filmmakers said “Marshall” works, as origin stories should, even if the audience arrives at the theater knowing nothing about its central figure.
From left, Josh Gad, Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Brown in “Marshall.” Credit Barry Wetcher/Open Road Films
The film would have been compelling even if he were named John Smith, Mr. Hudlin added. “But he also happens to be a real person, and he was the greatest lawyer in the history of the country.”
People who knew Marshall said the film captures his swagger, humor and love of life. “He had a legendary capacity for spontaneous humor and telling anecdotes,” said Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford who served as his law clerk.
The film includes glimpses of Marshall’s glittering, jazz-infused social life in Harlem, including friendships with Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. The young lawyer drinks, flirts and teases.
In court, Mr. Boseman said, Marshall drew on the improvisational verve of Harlem’s culture. “He brings that jazz to the struggle,” he said.
Mr. Hudlin said he wanted to show that the black experience in America was not only suffering and struggle.
“These guys led amazing lives,” Mr. Hudlin said. “Thurgood left that. He left his beautiful wife. He left his celebrity friends to literally go to hell, to go to places where they would kill him as easily as they looked at him. That is a different definition of courage. It’s not because your back is to the wall and you have no choice. He had a choice. He made a choice.”
“Marshall” may inspire some young people to consider law school, Mr. Hudlin said. “They’ve grown up in such a cynical time,” he said, “that they’ve never seen the law used to make things better.”
In the film, Friedman grows to admire Marshall’s ability to put out legal fires kindled by racism. Marshall rejects the compliment. “It’s not the fires I’m after, Sam,” Marshall says. “It’s fire itself.”
Some of the greatest crimes are not considered illegal. The African slave trade changed history by forcibly disrupting millions of lives in two worlds—it robbed Africa of its people and perverted the foundation of America with a national sin, while leaving more than 1 million bodies dead in the Atlantic.
With no path from East St. Louis, IL to working in Hollywood, this man created one for himself. On “Spotlight On” our host Chae’ Jones sits down with director, producer, writer and Oscar Governor, Reginald Hudlin about his upcoming movie “Marshall” and his recently released DC comic book, “The Black Racer and Shilo Norman Special #1”.
Reginald Hudlin started with directing and writing the movie House Party as a short film that later turned into the feature film that is still the highest grossing movie in the franchise. Hudlin’s new movie “Marshall” tells about one of Thurgood Marshall’s greatest challenge in the early days of his career. When asked what made him want to be apart of this film Hudlin said, “For me, if you have a black Mount Rushmore, now everybody would have different people on it. For me, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Thurgood Marshall. Thurgood Marshall is the most underrated on that list. For me, he is one of the most important. For many reasons for one he wasn’t a minister unlike Malcom and Martin. The other three are outlaws, for a good cause, for justice right? And that’s a big part of who we are as a people but we also have to lawmakers. We can’t just fight the power. We have to be the power. Part of being the power is setting up a fair legal system, setting up a fair government and that’s what Thurgood Marshall dedicated his life to doing.” Marshall is out in theaters nationwide on October 13th.
A comic book lover, and after writing the Black Panther mini series, he has a new DC comic book apart of the Jack Kirby One Shots 2017 titled, “The Black Racer and Shilo Norman Special #1”. Hudlin said, “Kirby has created a million great characters. There wouldn’t be comic books if not for Jack Kirby. So there’s a character called The Black Racer who is basically death personified who flies after you. And then he has another character called Mr. Miracle who’s the world’s greatest escape artist.” He put the escape artist versus death. “It’s so dope!” If you want a copy you can buy it on the DC Comics website as the comic book was released August 30th, 2017.
The Floyd Mayweather – Conor McGregor hype tour kicks off Tuesday, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, as they get set to promote their highly-anticipated August boxing match set for August 26th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The media build-up to this bout between the retired five-division boxing world champion and the current Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight titleholder will be unlike anything we have seen before.
Or have we?
For boxing nerds and B-movie comedy fans, one cannot help but draw parallels between this fight and the 1996 film “The Great White Hype.”
“The Great White Hype;” directed by Reginald Hudlin and starring Samuel L. Jackson, Damon Wayans, and Peter Berg; tells the tale of undefeated boxing heavyweight world champion James “The Grim Reaper” Roper (Wayans), who is bored with his lack of competition after defeating his last opponent with great ease.
Roper’s promoter, Reverend Fred Sultan (Jackson), concerned about his fighter’s sagging pay-per-view (PPV) buy numbers, concocts a scheme to stimulate interest in Roper’s next bout by finding a white opponent that casual boxing fans can get behind, hoping the racial dynamic would increase ticket and PPV sales.
Failing to find a suitable opponent for his champion, The Sultan sets out to create his own “Great White Hype,” matching up Roper against Terry Conklin (Berg), the only man to ever beat Roper at the Golden Gloves amateur level. The fact that Conklin was retired from the fight game and was the lead singer of metal band Massive Head Wound was irrelevant to The Sultan. For The Sultan, whose character is clearly based on boxing promoter Don King, those were minor details.
First, The Sultan enticed Conklin out of retirement with a $10 million payday that the metal frontman could use for his progressive causes like solving American homelessness. Secondly, he hired Conklin a trainer to get him ready for the match against Roper. Lastly, The Sultan bribed the boxing governing body to pad the Top 10 rankings to justify Conklin “earning” a title shot despite having a professional record of 0-0 (not surprisingly, that is also McGregor’s professional boxing record, though he’s not looking for a title).
Hilarity ensues, as the movie critiques the business of boxing, particularly the success of The Sultan’s scheme of using over-the-top racial tropes in order to sell the fight to a bigger audience, including emphasizing Conklin’s “Irishness” to push sales, despite the fact Conklin had zero Irish heritage (ironically, McGregor hails from Dublin, Ireland).
Using race to sell combat sports, particularly boxing, is as old as the fight game itself. The Sultan points that out to Roper when he first hatches his scheme, using the 1982 Gerry Cooney-Larry Holmes bout and the 1995 Mike Tyson-Peter McNeely fight as his examples of how race-baiting generates revenue.
We see this, historically, with Jack Johnson, who became the first black heavyweight boxing champion in 1908, and did very well for himself leveraging America’s sentiments against African-Americans into big bucks, earning him $65,000 ($1,618,078.35 in 2017) in his “Fight of the Century” bout against former champion James J. Jeffries. Joe Louis and Max Schmeling faced off twice, in 1936 and 1938, pitting Germany’s Aryan hero against the American champion deemed inferior by fascist dictator Adolf Hitler.
It is inevitable, especially in these racially-charged times, that the Mayweather-McGregor fight will go down that path, whether the fighters like it or not. Add the fact that both Mayweather and McGregor are click-bait fodder, with fans and haters of each competitor so willing to click and critique every single article ever written about the two (yes, including this one), and the “Embrace Debate” era of sports television programming — where the most ignorant hot takes always get the most attention, there is no way this does not degenerate into a heated and volatile discussion about race.
And it is not just the Clay Travis’s and Stephen A. Smith’s of the world who will fall into this trap. Expect political commentators, people not paid to cover boxing or mixed martial arts (MMA), and who at best are casual fans (at worst, never watched either sport), to give their two cents on the racial dynamic of the fight.
Don’t believe me, ask pundit Shaun King, who has already gotten the ball rolling on such articles.
By the end of next week’s press conference tour that will take Mayweather and McGregor to Los Angeles, Toronto, New York City and London, “The Notorious” and the man simply known as “Money” will have provided plenty of material for the political machine.
The media circus will certainly be entertaining and colorful. Considering both McGregor’s penchant to draw the ire of his opponents as well Mayweather reminding the world he is “Table A,” not just in boxing negotiation tables but in all of combat sports, it will be a spectacle, much like the press conference shown in “The Great White Hype.”
It just goes to show that the more things change in boxing, the more they stay same; and that the only color that matters to both McGregor and Mayweather is green, as they laugh all the way to the bank.
If you want to know how we got to Voltron references, mink coats in July (in Vegas), and just good ‘ole fashioned toxic stupidity, you don’t have to go very far. This weekend’s boxing match will end exactly the way it began; as a failed punchline to a gruesome joke.
It’s fitting then, that this was all predicted, outlined, and explained in 1996. Reginald Hudlin’s The Great White Hype illuminated the the presence and politics of Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor. This wasn’t Demolition Man – a silly film hitting the Nostradamus bingo with a good joke. It was ancient wisdom articulated by Samuel L. Jackson and Damon Wayans.
In the film, Jackson plays a bombastic, greedy boxing promoter. His current champ, James Roper (played by Wayans), is a great fighter. Roper doesn’t have any interesting challengers lined up, and thus can’t make the promotion money. So Jackson finds himself a ready-made narrative – scout for white fighters to challenge his black boxer. This white fighter (Terry Conklin, played by Peter Berg) will have no real credibility, but ‘race sells’.
The fight gets approval from the athletic commission. The commissioner, played by Cheech Marin, eventually agrees to the absurd spectacle. How? “Money, sex, and drugs,” he tells Jackson. Meanwhile, a journalist played by Jeff Goldblum is blacklisted because every good freakshow has a subplot that makes perfect sense in prizefighting’s bizarro world of petty grudges and vulgar displays of power.
Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Let’s look at these parallels.
Inside the cage, when the UFC instituted its Reebok partnership, the only bonuses ‘comparable’ to the independent sponsors that fighters used to have would be granted to only 2 percent of the roster. The cap on Reebok’s “lucrative” deal is just 4 percent of what Floyd Mayweather makes in Burger King sponsors alone (likely another form of the UFC’s cost cutting).
Inside the ring, Olympic boxing was recently accused of blatant corruption after a series of questionable decisions in Rio – something Mayweather himself was the victim of in 1996. Several years ago, the death of boxer Beethaeven Scottland occurred while the New York State Athletic Commission was in the middle of political patronage.
Bombastic, greedy promoters? Check.
What about the seedy athletic commissioner? Bob Bennett strenuously objected to any implications that money had anything to do with approving a fighter with no boxing history against a fighter with one of the most decorated histories in the sport.
“Money had nothing to with it,” he told Ariel Helwani. Which sounds sincere enough in a politically compromised way. That is, until you begin cataloging the things Bennett starts saying afterward that turn you into a Drew Scanlon meme.
“Conor is the younger, stronger, the longer, more powerful puncher.”
“He’s a young, aggressive warrior.”
“Conor is a young warrior coming up.”
“Mr. Hunter thought that if Nate (Diaz) really wanted to be a professional fighter, he would have been a world-class boxer.”
“Money, sex, and drugs.” (just kidding)
What about the Jeff Goldblum role, in which a journalist is blacklisted because prizefighting is a bizarro world of inexplicable subplots? Check.
And to think it all started because an Esquire journalist casually asked McGregor about Mayweather, and McGregor replied that he’d “kill him in less than 30 seconds.” To be fair to Mayweather, them’s fighting words (with historic implications).
A fake poster from Mayweather, and an Iron Man text later, and the fight was on.
The boxing media, as expected, haven’t taken kindly to the match. They’ve called it an absolute insult. The Washington Post has dubbed it dubious. And Sugar Ray Leonard called it embarrassing.
The MMA media has been less quiet, but they know what it’s like when the glove is on the other hand. They used the exact same language when James Toney fought Randy Couture in a soulless display of regrettable actions for everyone involved.
Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
My colleague, John Nash, has called the bout a hippodrome; a nice bit of Grecian terminology referring to something ‘not on the level’.
There’s an interesting dynamic in the ’96 film. Roper is portrayed as greedy, uppity, and lazy. That last characteristic is symbolized by Roper doing laps trying unsuccessfully to catch an ice cream truck. Conklin, meanwhile, is portrayed as clean cut, and nonviolent. In fact, Conklin’s participation relies on Sam Jackson’s character convincing him that the $10M he’s paying him can eradicate homelessness.
McGregor hasn’t talk about eradicating homelessness, but the media has made a big deal about McGregor collecting a welfare check. I guess we’ve long since forgotten that Mayweather grew up coming home from school with heroin needles littered on his front lawn. Of course, growing up around filth doesn’t prevent someone from becoming filth themselves. Nonetheless, it does beg the question. If there’s nothing sincere, or legitimate about this fight, then why the hell is it happening?
Is it because this match represents a much older fight?
Don’t look at me. The topic of race was broached by the fighters themselves. When McGregor said “dance for me boy” during the unrelentingly stupid world tour, Mayweather naturally accused McGregor of being racist. In the interest of word count, I’ll skip the part where both followed the discussion up with words like “faggot” and “I’m black because I have a black cock” (in so many words) as if this circus wasn’t #problematic enough.
Boxing itself understands these tribal boundaries. It was the rallying cry for Jim Jeffries to challenge Jack Johnson, the first black boxing champion in 1910, instigated by the American novelist Jack London, who cried “Jeffries, it’s up to you! Jeffries, it’s up to you! The White Man must be rescued!” Fitting, since London himself believed in eugenics.
“Unlike other major sports, where athletes are routinely fined for using slurs and making offensive statements, boxing virtually stands alone — a warped and backward dimension of the sports world where racism, sexism and the ugly underbelly of American hate is strategically showcased to generate interest and sell tickets. The Mayweather-versus-McGregor promotion is an extension of this checkered history and institutional culture, but this time, the stage is far bigger and the stakes much higher,” Kahled A. Beydoun writes.
Which is true. Boxing seems to enjoy swimming in its own sewage. Other sports aren’t perfect, but there’s at least a pretense of civilization. Anaheim hockey all-star Ryan Getzlaf was fined for calling a ref a cocksucker. Kobe Byrant’s gay slur cost him $100,000. And NFL players can’t go to Vegas to arm wrestle.
But not prizefighting. In the UFC, when Mike Perry’s cornerman made fun of the eyes of Perry’s South Korean opponent, Lim Hyun-Gyu, the UFC just looked the other way. Like they did with Bisping and Cerrone. This isn’t even counting the presence of the bizarre but uglypost-Soviet geopolitics.
The UFC mirrors this raw divide. The sport itself has become a “bifurcated product”, as Patrick Wyman observes, thanks to an incredibly small pool of actual sellers (Ronda Rousey, Conor, and Jon Jones before he looted Manfred Ewald’s coffin for his remaining stash) complimented with a travel bag of fighters that sell some vague notion of the UFC product rather something truly identifiable. If that sounds abstract, consider what Jon Anik told Wyman; that market research revealed that a third of UFC viewers on Fox don’t even know that they’re watching the UFC.
Floyd and Conor don’t explicitly bear the burden of racial tensions in America, or Soviet geopolitics. But the implicit feeling of being burdened by a system that only ever pressures, never relieves, is nonetheless familiar. It’s not their respective sports that brought them here. That’s part of it. It’s their personalities. These are men trying to rise above their sports. Not with them. By Floyd’s own admission. And Conor.
This is not the story boxing, or the UFC would ever tell of course. It has to be packaged the way it always has; as tribal warfare with a mic.
“Alt”, in recent years, refers to a combining form denoting extremism – a fitting description for a hyped fight in which faith in one fighter relies on the similarities between a non-boxer andcryptocurrency.
In Hudlin’s film, Conklin loses the fight by knockout. Hudlin juxtaposes Conklin’s loss with a crippled boy, rooting for Conklin, dropping his arena-bought Irish flag in despair. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t believe there’s a single possible outcome on Saturday that won’t leave us feeling like that crippled boy.