American Trial Films and the Popular Culture of Law

Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology (Oxford Univ. Press 2017), DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.013.200

Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 321-2018

19 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2020

See all articles by Jessica M. Silbey

Jessica M. Silbey

Northeastern University - School of Law; Northeastern University - Center for Law, Innovation and Creativity

Date Written: February 2017

Abstract

The American trial and American cinema share certain epistemological tendencies. Both stake claims to an authoritative form of knowledge based on the indubitable quality of observable phenomena. And both are preoccupied with sustaining the authority that underlies the knowledge produced by visual perception. The American trial and cinematic form also increasingly share cultural space. Although the trial film (otherwise known as the courtroom drama) is as old as the medium of film, the continuing popularity of the legal drama centered on a courtroom verdict suggests more than a trend. The inherent affinities between law and film not only produce enduring and memorable stories about law and justice but help constitute a popular legal consciousness that sustains the authority of the rule of law in the United States. This article describes these affinities in more detail, tracing the common themes in trial films, the special case of trial film based on true stories, and the future of the genre in American popular culture. It concludes by reviewing the disciplinary approach to the study of law and visual popular culture.

Keywords: film, courtroom drama, lawyers

Suggested Citation

Silbey, Jessica M., American Trial Films and the Popular Culture of Law (February 2017). Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology (Oxford Univ. Press 2017), DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.013.200; Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 321-2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3151795

Jessica M. Silbey (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

Northeastern University - Center for Law, Innovation and Creativity

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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