Thursday, August 17, 2017

Using film to teach US legal history

[This is the first of two posts on film & pedagogy. The second is on global and non-US legal history.]

12 Years a Slave Poster
Credit: IMDb
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 US legal history:
  • Winston Bowman: I frequently use two clips: (1) the scene from Dirty Harry in which a prosecutor tells Clint Eastwood's character that a serial killer will be set loose because he failed to follow proper procedures. Rather oddly, the scene includes a judge and professor from Berkeley who scolds him for failing to obtain a warrant. (2) a surprisingly affecting cartoon from Orson Welles' adaptation of Kafka's The Trial. The cartoon is an interpretation of "Before the Law," a parable about the tantalizing and confounding promise of access to justice that is included in the novel and was also published as a short story. 
  • Al Brophy: I brought my legal history seminar students (it was a seminar on slavery and property) to 12 Years a Slave back when it was a first run movie.
  • Orna Alyagon Darr: I use Gideon's Trumpet that tells the story of Gideon v. Wainwright when I teach the history of the right to counsel & the public defenders system.
More after the jump.
  • Sam Erman: For an undergraduate legal history course that I teach (“Law and the US Constitution in Global History”), I try to match up some video assignment with the topics we're covering every week.  In some cases, these are problematic representations of the past (Gone with the Wind, Birth of a Nation, etc.) that I use to get them thinking about historical memory and the stakes of history.  At other times, the emphasis is a bit more on what we can learn and what becomes visible as material is dramatized.  Examples include 13 Years a Slave and Amistad (though, they obviously can work on the first topic too). Other films I assign in this course include: John Adams miniseries, part I: Join or Die (2008) (available on Amazon streaming); Drums along the Mohawk (1939) (Amazon streaming/Google Play); The Liberator (2013) (Amazon streaming/Google Play); Glory (1989)(Amazon streaming/Google Play); Separate But Equal (1991); “Affirmative Action: Diversity or Double Standard,” 60 Minutes (2000) (via CBS News website); “True Colors—Racial Discrimination in Everyday Life ½,” Primetime Live (Nov.26, 1992) (on youtube); “True Colors—Racial Discrimination in Everyday Life 2/2,” Primetime Live (Nov.26, 1992) (on youtube). On availability: The law school library has been great about helping me to get them online so students can stream them at their leisure.  I had to swap out a couple of choices because the permissions weren't available and in a couple other cases I depend upon youtube not taking down an item at the copyright holder's request.  The first year I taught it, I tried to make as much free to the students as possible.  But this past year, I had the library put online just those items the university already had permissions for.  For the rest, I sent the students to youtube, googleplay, netflix, etc. for.  That saved a lot of administrative headache and went over pretty smoothly with the students.
  • Sally Gordon: The Crucible, Inherit the Wind
  • Joanna Grisinger: I use stuff from the Prelinger Archives (which is amazing).  There's a Jimmy Durante ad for the National Recovery Administration, a War Relocation Authority propaganda film on Japanese internment camps, and an anticommunist propaganda film I use. And I've had my “Law & the Civil Rights Movement” students watch 4 Little Girls (the Spike Lee film about the Birmingham church bombing). Mostly I assign these for students to watch outside of class.(Our e-reserve people do a great job streaming films through the course site upon request.)
  • Sally Hadden: Judgment at Nuremburg, Andersonville Trial
  • Dirk Hartog: In my 20th century legal thought class, I use Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie and Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder, during weeks on the legal profession.  I used George Cukor's Adam's Rib for a week on feminist legal thought.  I have students look at the lynching postcards (see the Without Sanctuary website) during a discussion of the legality of lynching.
  • Elizabeth Hoffmann: I show The Road to Brown about the legal and social “paths" leading up to Brown v. Bd. of Ed. The class is mostly seniors; they seem to get a lot out of it. I’ve never taught it in a class, but I’ve considered using Inherit the Wind, the movie based on the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.
  • Nate Holdren: I showed the documentary 13th to students who had read about the legal history of slavery and emancipation and about race and law in the US. They found it powerful and thought provoking. It's on Netflix and under a license that allows for educational public screenings.
  • Jim Jaffe: I like using a nice PBS documentary on the Scopes Monkey Trial – not as dramatic or fun as the film Inherit the Wind with Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow (!), but has a lot more on the social controversy surrounding the trial.
  • Fred Konefsky: Here is a recommendation that might be a little off the beaten track: the 1942 Hollywood film, The Talk of the Town, starring Cary Grant and Ronald Colman. It's billed as a comedy, but it has lots of overtones of social justice (it is not an accident that it was made by George Stevens during the war).  Some of it has a little bit of a sense of caricature, but I used it to try to tease out in very broad strokes the tensions between legal formalism and legal realism, as the wave of realism was peaking.  It can be a little melodramatic and overdone, but it serves as a general jurisprudential introduction. 
  • Felicia Kornbluh: For US law and society/ legal history I've used the documentary about William Kunstler by his daughters, Disturbing the Universe, as well as 12 Angry Men, Civil Action, and Judgment at Nuremberg.  And the Hollywood classic Adam's Rib on gender and law.  All with much critical commentary. I once used Redacted, the Brian dePalma Iraq war movie.  If I taught the course today, I would include more like that.  
  • Alison Lefkovitz: I use a few of the ones mentioned by others here--including Birth of a Nation and 12 Angry Men. I also use some sequences from Within Our Gates as a response to Birth of a Nation, the rape sequence from A Midwife's Tale, and the trailer for Rape and Marriage, a tv movie of the Rideout case starring Mickey Rourke and Linda Hamilton. I've never found the full movie online, but I haven't dived that deeply either.
  • Emma Long: I teach a course on the history of the US Bill of Rights.  As well as Gideon’s Trumpet and 12 Angry Men, I’ve used Inherit the Wind (Religion Clauses), Absence of Malice and All the President’s Men (free press), Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (legal process and race, questions of “fair” trial), and a BBC TV series called “Life and Death Row” which might be available elsewhere for weeks on capital punishment.  I haven’t used it yet, but am planning to incorporate Loving into my teaching.
  • Jessica Lowe: I use Slavery by Another Name in my Crime and Punishment course.
  • Sara Mayeux: I like to use short documentary clips as relevant to discussions in my seminars- the New York Times "Retro Report" had a good one on the 80s "crack baby" panic and I believe I found a PBS clip on Attica uprising, some Nixon footage, a CNN recap of Bush v Gore, etc. I tend to find students have little awareness of things from the sweet spot of recent history between when high school history ends & they were born so even just showing news clips can be helpful. I sometimes show short movie clips at the start of lecture classes too- I have shown short clips of relevant sections of "Eyes on the Prize" in my Con Law class on Brown v Board and affirmative action/Bakke- not sure it can be streamed but usually your law library will have or can ILL the DVDs- and some "Firing Line" clips of William F Buckley debating the ERA (these are on YouTube), etc.
  • Elizabeth Pleck: Loving v. Virginia
  • Wes Pue: I'd love to explore the cultural construction of Americanness in Birth of a Nation. It's pretty long and that is only one of several reasons to approach it cautiously.  I wonder what the nearest British equivalent is.
  • Intisar Rabb: I have used The Autobiography of Malcolm X (purchased through Amazon; made available through reserve), as well as the Lin-Manuel Miranda Hamilton White House performance of the title song (3 min) which was available by You Tube in 2010.
  • Gautham Rao:
o   Administrative state: Sudhir Venkatesh’s Dislocation
o   14th amendment: Jane-An Abortion Service
o   Early American law: John Adams miniseries
o   Environmental law/history: When the Levee Broke; A Civil Action
o   Discrimination: Philadelphia
o   Jim Crow: (PBS) Murder of Emmet Till; Birth of a Nation
  • Lucy Salyer: Like others here, I have also used Adam’s Rib, long ago when I taught gender, law, and culture – one of my favorite old movies!  I have also used segments of  “One Woman, One Vote,” to discuss women’s suffrage; a CBS news documentary (hosted by Walter Cronkite) on “Abortion and the Law” from 1965; Eyes on the Prize (especially the section on Little Rock and the enforcement of Brown); A Family Gathering (one family’s experience during the internment of Japanese Americans in WW2, including a legal challenge made to the curfew). On migration/refugee issues, I’ve used: The State of Arizona (on AZ SB1070, or “show me your papers” law); Farmingville (on Mexican immigrants in NY and local legal responses); the Other Side of Immigration (useful in highlighting the personal and social impact of American immigration and trade policies for Mexican families and communities) Rain in a Dry Land (following two Somali families through the refugee process).
  • Mitra Sharafi: In my undergraduate Legal Studies course on the history of forensic science, I show excerpts from The Poisoner’s Handbook (PBS, 2014) on forensic toxicology in early 20th-c. US history (I bought the DVD). On death investigation, the forensic pathologist who visits for a guest class asks my students to watch in advance “Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America(PBS, 2011). I have not used it for teaching, but there is an episode of The Good Wife that shows the non-autopsy part of a coroner’s inquest: season 4, episode 17--"Invitation to an Inquest" on Netflix/Amazon Prime (thanks to Binyamin Blum for this one). My undergraduate Legal Studies course “Legal Pluralism” involves some legal history. I show the opening scene from The Godfather for our day on the mafia’s role in dispute resolution ("Why did you go to the police? Why didn't you come to me first?"). I show all of American Gypsy: A Stranger in Everybody’s Land (dir. Jasmine Dellal, 2000), which features a 1986 police raid on a Roma home in Spokane that violated Roma purity laws. I bought the Dellal film here. (I post my syllabi here.)
Some of you also recommended readings:
  • Yvonne Kozlovsky Golan, The Death Penalty in American Cinema: Criminality and Retribution in Hollywood Film (I. B. Tauris, 2014); and
  • John Wertheimer: Norman Rosenberg’s article “Hollywood on Trials: Courts and Films, 130-1960” (Law and History Review 12:2, 1994, pp. 341-67) analyzes some old films in interesting ways.  You could extract film names and also analytical approaches from the article.
Thanks to everyone who contributed! These should keep us all busy for a bit. If you have other recommendations, we’d love to know.

Update from 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!). 

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