This decade was a period of whose culture was being defined after having gone through a depression, and a won a world war. There was an issue that hit closer to home, however, than any of the other defining moments of the time period. Not only was the constant fear of a potential communist government takeover of the United States, but we had racial issues starting to emerge through the start and development of the Civil Rights movement.
The mid-’50s was full of domestic racial tensions as ethnic minorities demanded the same equal right as other men did.
Many people were for and against the movement causing a split in a nation living in constant fear from external sources. The art and entertainment that developed and came out of this period serve to show the viewer how the effects of the issues at the time affected the average American.
A perfect example of the entertainment industry creating such artwork was the creation of 12 Angry Men in 1957, three years after the start of the Civil Rights Movement.
This courtroom drama deals with the issue of twelve jurors working to determine a unanimous verdict towards the conviction of a man on trial for the murder of his father.
The real problem that this movie tackle is the way many of the jurors make their decisions in the justice system not through logic but through their prejudices and flaws which affected their decision on whether the accused was innocent or guilty. This film can be seen as a reflection of the time period that it was made in since the racial tensions and prejudice in a white American society.
Although movie might seem to be made purely for entertainment, there is a way for the directors to include their views through their filmmaking on American society. The theme of racial injustice is more apparent as the film develops.
The issue of judging people becomes harder when you try and put your racial bias aside. The New York Times wrote, “Their dramas are powerful and provocative enough to keep a viewer spellbound.” The commentary on American racism was done effectively by playwright Reginald Rose since he emphasized “the fact that the attributes, failings, passions, and prejudices of these talesmen is as striking and important as the awesome truth that they hold a boy’s life in their hands.
” The juror’s prejudice is quick to act in condemning the boy until Juror #8 takes the time to discuss his decision based on the facts and logic instead of the juror’s feelings about the boy. Juror #8 has reasonable doubt since he wants to consider the facts since he’s not convinced on either side of the debate. He morally struggles on just convicting the boy on trial because of what he feels is right. He identifies his responsibility when he says, “It’s not easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.” Juror #8 understands that his morality is the best choice since they are playing God in this boy’s life and would be immoral to sentence him without analyzing the information rather than first impressions based on race.
The teleplay in 1954, had set the accused boy to be of the slums, but in this adaptation, Rose’s decision to make the accused boy of a minority race was crucial to reflecting the racial tensions that were occurring during this time period. These racial divisions were becoming evident during the leadup to the start of the Civil Rights movement. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled on the case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Supreme Court decided that the concept of races being “separate but equal” within the school districts to be unconstitutional. Some states complied even if they didn’t agree with the court’s decision, but in some cases, the federal government had to intervene to hold the states accountable
. Additionally, 12 Angry Men came out during a political transition period. Two years before the film’s release, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus in 1955 which incited the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956. Other minority races were also considered inferior citizens such as Latinos. Just like African Americans, they were mistreated and kept off-limits to white areas. Reginald Rose’s adaptations version of 12 Angry Men was influenced by the heated political climate during the creation of his adaptation of the film.
Racial discrimination is continuously present throughout the film. Juror #10, who was played by Ed Begley, decides and asserts his belief that the boy is guilty because he was a Hispanic boy that lived in the slums. Juror #10 primarily focuses on the boy’s race and can’t look past it to analyze the rest of the case. Juror #10 backs up his beliefs by stating “You know he’s guilty. None of them people are any good.” Additionally, Juror #10 states, “You know these people lie. It’s born in them.” Juror #10 classifies all Hispanics into a category of untrustworthy people that are programmed to lie and be unreliable and uses this as his main point for his racially inclined decisions. Juror #4, played by E.G. Marshall, further continues to prove the jurors prejudiced views and how where the boy grew up affects his morality and character. Juror #4 states, “The children who come out of slum backgrounds are potential menaces to society.
” Rose decided to let the jurors use this type of racial language to reflect the increasing racial tensions at the time. As mentioned before, this time period during American history was filled with more than racial issues. Americans were also concerned with questions regarding their own democratic government’s collapse to communism. There were extreme views such as those held by Senator Joe McCarthy when he claimed he knew communists who infiltrated the U.S. government, which he then used to further his career out of fear. Communism was considered “a real threat to American security,” and Rose was able to criticize that the true threat to our democracy was every individual’s lack of responsibility.
There were extreme views such as those held by Senator Joe McCarthy, which he then used to further his career out of fear. Juror #7 is wanting to ignore his responsibility and mess around with someone’s life just so that he can have enough time to make it to a baseball game. He changes his opinion to not guilty and tries to get his decision not to impact his personal plans. Juror #11 points this out when he says, “You have sat here and voted guilty with the rest of them because you have some baseball tickets burning a hole in your pocket.
And now you change your mind because you are sick of talking?” Juror #11 reminds the rest of the jurors that they are the ones carrying a huge responsibility when deciding the fate of the accused boy when the jurors start changing their opinions just because they are tired of talking. Juror #11 states, “If you want to vote not guilty, then do it because you’re convinced the man is not guilty – not because you’ve had enough. And if you think he’s guilty, then vote that way, or don’t you have the guts to do what you think is right?”
The themes and issues tackled in 12 Angry Men when addressing racial discrimination and self-responsibility continue to be relevant to this day. Reginald Rose’s film will continue to be regarded as an incredible piece of entertainment that tackled many of the issues during the time period it was created in. The fact that it continues to carry relevance to this day makes us wonder how our nation could be if we paid more attention and worked together to tackle the issues that Rose presented to us.