[This is the second of two posts on film & pedagogy. The first is on US legal history.]
What films (and film clips) do you use when teaching legal history? This summer, we asked many of you this question (H/t: Law & History CRN). We received an avalanche of responses. Here they are, hopefully just in time for your fall syllabus needs. (Most responders describe films and video clips shown in class, but some assign videos to be watched in advance.)
For teaching global and non-US legal history:
- Yael Berda: I use the first episode of Rome to explain Max Weber’s concept of imperium in Roman law. I show Gandhi to talk about perceptions of citizenship and legal status within the British empire.
- Levi Cooper: When teaching Jewish legal history, I use clips (not full movies), or even just stills from movies to illustrate a point, start a discussion, pique interest, or as an aide-memoire. For example:
o When teaching about the centrality of dispute and dissent in Jewish law, I start with a clip from Fiddler on the Roof ("he's right and he's right, they can't both be right...")
o When teaching about the reaches of Jewish law as a religious legal system that is not based on political borders, I show a clip from The Martian ("Mark Watney, space pirate").
o I open my class on the minority opinions in Jewish law with a still from Minority Report.
- Rohit De: I've been using a few films for my “Lawyers as Rebels” class which work well:
o On WWII and international criminal law:
1. Judgment at Nuremberg by Stanley Kramer. It's a little long and would also work well with clips. It's a Hollywood big budget film around the trial of judges who served under the Nazi regime. The key question is one of the inner morality of law.
2. Tokyo Trial (this is a four-part series on Netflix produced by a Dutch company) which focuses on the judges on the Tokyo tribunal, particularly the Dutch and Indian judge who both dissented. Episodes 2 and 3 (both around 35 minutes) work well for a class.
o On Colonialism:
1. There are a number of short clips from Attenborough’s Gandhi that work, like the great trial scene where he pleads guilty to sedition and his burning of ID cards in South Africa;
2. Samvidhaan: The Making of the Indian Constitution, 10-part TV series on the making of the Indian constitution with reenactments and subtitles, a bit didactic but works well with reading the debates
o On Crime:
1. Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (it's a TV show based on Kate Summerscale’s fantastic book)
2. The return of Martin Guerre, ditto for Natalie Zemon Davis.
3. Sisters in Law, great documentary on women judges and prosecutors in the Cameroons
- Sam Erman: India Untouched (2007) on affirmative action in India (available online)
- Sally Hadden: Judgment at Nuremburg
- Jim Jaffe: I like teaching with The Return of Martin Guerre (popular, but lays out the legal structure of early modern France very well). I also use the original film used in the Nuremburg trials (Nazi War Crimes Trial? From the National Archives), which, it is claimed, was the first time film was used as evidence in a trial. The fact that it doesn’t mention the Holocaust or single out the Jews as victims also makes it interesting. Also, it can lead to an interesting discussion about the inclusion/exclusion/verification of testimony and witnessing. In my British history class, I always showed A Royal Scandal – incredibly funny and witty BBC production of the prosecution of “Queen” Caroline of Brunswick, wife of the future George IV. Through all the antics, intentionally reminiscent of Charles and Diana, it’s a nice story of how to try a member of the royal family before the House of Lords.
- Fred Konefsky: A very interesting Chinese film is the The Story of Qiu Ju (based on a Chinese novella), set in China probably in the 1980s, which raises all sorts of issues about the nature of justice, and starkly sets up the clash between life in Chinese villages and its notions of justice and expectations about the legal system, and the more centralized and bureaucratic state legal apparatus. The cultural clashes are quite strikingly detailed, though one can make the argument that the themes are universal. I occasionally used the film to get US law students away from assumption that thinking about law is restricted to the American landscape.
- Assaf Likhovski: I use a documentary film called Killing Kasztner in my Israeli legal history class. It deals with the trial and assassination of a Hungarian Jewish lawyer who was accused of collaborating with the Nazis. It raises interesting questions about the ability of the legal process to discover and judge the past, and the relationship of law and memory.
- Jessica Marglin: I really enjoyed teaching the film, Gett: the Trial of Vivian Amsellem I asked my library to order a copy.
- Michelle McKinley: Sisters in Law is AMAZING. I use it for human rights as the last class. It completely lays the white savior narrative to rest.
- Siobhan Mukerji: When I was in college at Duke I watched a few films in Edward Balleisen's "The Rule of Law in World History" class. I thought they worked well: The Story of Qiu Ju (China, 1992), Breaker Morant (Australia 1980).
- Intisar Rabb: I have used The Message (1976, available online).
- Kalyani Ramnath: Not so much legal history, as much legal concepts, but I like Court (dir. Chaitanya Tamhane, 2014) and Oh my God (dir. Umesh Shukla, 2012), both of which are about ordinary people confronting the idiosyncrasies of law. I also like Deepa Dhanraj's documentaries, especially the biopic of K.G. Kannabiran, the lawyer. On the Babri Masjid demolition: "I live in Behrampada" (1993) by Madhushree Datta.
- David Schorr: For English legal history I have used Billy Wilder's (and Agatha Christie's) Witness For the Prosecution to highlight some aspects of English procedure with historical roots. The last couple of years I have switched to the first episode of the BBC drama Garrow's Law, which does a good job of showing the transition to adversarial trial with counsel and some of its historical causes (the full episode's on Vimeo).
- Mitra Sharafi: When I taught my undergrad Legal Studies course, “Law and Colonialism,” I used Gandhi on the role of colonized lawyers leading independence movements in the British Empire (opening assassination and funerary procession scene along with the following scene where Gandhi is thrown off a South African train as a young barrister). I also showed the courtroom scene from Passage to India which is about a a sexual assault case (an Indian man accused of attacking a British woman), the malleability of memory, and the notion of racial “honor” in a colonial context. My undergraduate Legal Studies course “Legal Pluralism” involves some legal history. I begin the course by showing Courts and Councils: Dispute Settlement in India (1981), a 30-minute documentary produced by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for South Asia. It is hard to find; I think it is only available by purchase here. It does a great job of showing the many layers of dispute resolution in India--from the Nandiwala bull-trading community's panchayat (community council) to the state courts, and occasionally with some historical context. (I post my syllabi here.)
Plus some relevant reading:
- Jackie Gullard: Steve Greenfield, Guy Osborn and Peter Robson's Film and the Law (Hart, 2010) will throw up lots of possible titles for you, from a British angle.
- Susanna Blumenthal: Kanopy which is available to faculty and students at Minnesota and I suspect at many other institutions (and public libraries), has really revolutionized my thinking about the place of film in my teaching (both of law and history!).
Thanks to everyone who contributed! If you have other recommendations, we’d love to know.