“The only way to get through a bigot’s door is to break it down,” actor Chadwick Boseman, playing Thurgood Marshall, declares at a pivotal point in the film Marshall.
The statement elicited a hum of agreement from the audience gathered at Spotlight Theatres in downtown Hartford on January 25, 2018, to celebrate the film and the UConn School of Law alumnus, Michael Koskoff ‘66, who co-wrote the screenplay. The screening, co-hosted by UConn School of Law and the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association, drew a highly engaged audience of law students, lawyers, alumni and friends.
The movie is set in 1941, decades before Marshall’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, a time when he was traveling around the country providing legal defense in racially charged cases on behalf of the NAACP. The film focuses on the case of Joseph Spell, a black chauffeur accused of rape by his employer. Marshall was not granted admission into the Connecticut bar, so he enlisted Bridgeport lawyer Sam Friedman as his co-counsel.
Although the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education is by far Marshall’s most well-known case, State of Connecticut vs. Joseph Spell was most representative of his humor, confidence and work style, Koskoff told the Associated Press. In a discussion following the screening in Hartford, Koskoff said he was able to comprehend Marshall’s essence by reading newspaper articles, court files, Marshall’s jury selection notes and the letters he exchanged with Friedman.
Koskoff, who worked on the script with his son, screenwriter Jacob Koskoff, said his courtroom experience helped him fill in some of the gaps left by a lack of transcripts from the Spell trial. Koskoff’s practice focuses mainly on cases of personal injury, sexual abuse and civil rights violations. In 1970, he got a taste of a high-profile, racially charged case as part of the defense team for a defendant in the Black Panther trials in New Haven. Koskoff has won numerous awards for his legal and civic work, including the Greater Bridgeport NAACP Waverly Jones Freedom Award and the National Association of Black Patrolmen Dedicated Service Award.
“Our graduates go on to fight injustice in many ways,” Dean Timothy Fisher said. “Marshall is an example of the tremendous creativity and impact one can achieve with a law degree. We applaud Michael Koskoff not just for fighting for justice throughout his career, but for finding new ways to illuminate the path our heroes have blazed to a better society.”
Marshall premiered at Howard University in September 2017, and was released nationwide in October 2017.