12 Angry MenAFI Rank: #87 (10th anniversary ranking)
Year Released: 1957
Director: Sidney Lumet
Actors: Martin Balsam, Ed Begley, Edward Binns, Rudy Bond, Lee J. Cobb
It's not surprising to me that 12 Angry Men earned a #87 spot on the revised version of the AFI Top 100 listing. What's surprising to me is that it was completely off the first version of the list. This movie is such a classic in so many ways. In the process of taking my college courses for my bachelor's degree in Leadership, I was told to watch this movie in three separate courses. Professors felt it was that powerful in how it addressed communication and interpersonal relationships.
The story was first written in 1954. One often-asked question is were all juries all male back in 1954. The answer is no. To Kill a Mockingbird was set in the late 1930s Alabama - and the jury there had females on it. On the other hand, as late as 1966 women couldn't serve on state juries in South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama. So it definitely was a transition period. 12 Angry Men is set in New York. Interestingly, women COULD serve on a NY jury in 1701. However, by 1777 women couldn't even vote. It took until 1947 with Fay v. New York in the Supreme Court before women were allowed back on a jury. So at this point in time, yes women could serve on a jury.
I have to posit that a key reason they went with an all male cast here was so that stereotypes wouldn't be made about a "woman's opinion" or a "man's opinion" in an era where there was still so much debate over women even being on a jury. With all of them being white men, the focus became much more about the different angles that each person viewed the issue from. Certainly in modern times we might be much more able to separate characters' views from their racial or ethnic or sexual category. In the 1950s all of those issues were far stronger.
We don't even get names for our jurors. We barely see them outside of one, single room. It is simply about twelve different points of view, each seemingly as rational as the next, and examining them and evaluating them. It's about consensus building. How do we negotiate and build groups? How do we handle hurdles? How do we change minds?
I've seen it live, I've seen it many times up until the college course began, and I've seen it several times in the past year alone. It holds up well and each time you see something new in it.
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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100