Marshall — the 2017 biopic about a pivotal case tried by later Supreme Court justice (and first African-American to be appointed as such) Thurgood Marshall — isn’t one that would obviously appeal to me. Sure, I’m always interested in history, and shamefully, I didn’t know a lot about the man. But my first thought was “conventional biopic.” Well, I had an 11-hour flight to pass and a dearth of interesting movies on in-flight entertainment, so I fired it up. And I was so glad I did! The movie is compelling — well acted, written, and directed — and the costumes were on point to character and — special bonus — GORGEOUS.
The movie focuses on the case of Joseph Spell, accused of raping and attempting to murder his employer, Eleanor Strubing, in 1940. It’s shown in light of NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall’s work to combat anti-black discrimination by the legal system. The story is a bit fictionalized for dramatic effect — you can read about what was real and what wasn’t in articles like these at History vs. Hollywood, Time, Smithsonian Magazine, and The Hollywood Reporter.
The costumes were designed by Ruth E. Carter, who has done a number of period films with an African-American focus, including Roots, Selma, Amistad, and Malcolm X (and, yes, she’s the designer behind the recent Black Panther). She’s done a lot of press about Marshall, but the most interesting to me is The Woman Behind Chadwick Boseman’s Impeccable ‘Marshall’ Attire, in which she talks a lot about the specifics of her costume designs.
Chadwick Boseman (hooooot!!) plays Thurgood Marshall, and he is dressed impeccably in fashionable (but not overly so) suits. Carter mentions that Boseman doesn’t much resemble the real Marshall, so she used his costumes in order to help channel the character:
“I felt like it was many black men that we have had in our lives and our history that go to work, that put the uniform on and that perform a service to the highest level … When you look at the 1940s pictures of Thurgood Marshall, he’s wearing all of the accoutrements that we put on Chadwick. In many ways it gave him a little bit more of a forward presence during that time. People could look up to him. He was a representative of the NAACP and so he was a national leader in that way. He put them on the map.”
She also mentions that Boseman’s suits are vintage, but fellow lawyer Sam Friedman’s suits were custom-made using patterns and materials from the era.
Here’s the real Marshall:
The main female character is the accuser, Eleanor Strubing, a wealthy Connecticut wife. Instead of looking at the real Strubing, Carter says she was inspired by period advertisements from upscale department stores like Bullock’s and I. Magnin. According to The Observer article, “Carter found original suits made by costume designer Adrian and outfits from the now-defunct brand Lilli Ann for Kate Hudson in her role as Connecticut socialite Eleanor Strubing” (The Woman Behind Chadwick Boseman’s Impeccable ‘Marshall’ Attire).
Hudson wasn’t the only well-dressed woman in the film. Feast your eyes on:
Have you seen Marshall?