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Law and Popular Culture

A Course Book (2nd Edition)

Series:

Michael Asimow and Shannon Mader

Both law and popular culture pervade our lives. Popular culture constructs our perceptions of law and changes the way that players in the legal system behave. Now in its second edition, Law and Popular Culture: A Course Book explores the interface between two subjects of enormous importance to everyone – law and popular culture.
Each chapter takes a particular legally themed film or television show, such as Philadelphia, Dead Man Walking, or Law and Order, treating it as both a cultural text and a legal text.
The new edition has been updated with new photos and includes greater emphasis on television than in the first edition because there are so many DVDs of older TV shows now available.
Law and Popular Culture is written in an accessible and engaging style, without theoretical jargon, and can serve as a basic text for undergraduates or graduate courses and be taught by anyone who enjoys pop culture and is interested in law. An instructor’s manual is available on request from the publisher and author.
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11. The Death Penalty: Assigned Film: Dead Man Walking (1996)

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11

The Death Penalty

Assigned Film: Dead Man Walking (1996)1

11.01 The book and the movie2

The film Dead Man Walking was adapted from the book of the same name published by Sister Helen Prejean (1994). The character of Matthew Poncelet is a composite of two different death row prisoners with whom Sister Prejean worked in New Orleans. Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for best actress. Sean Penn was nominated for best actor, Tim Robbins for best director, and Bruce Springsteen for best song. Considering how dark it is, the film did well at the box office, grossing about $39 million on an original budget of about $11 million. (For discussion of adapting books into movies, see ¶12.02.3.)

11.02 Death penalty movies

11.02.1 Political stance of death penalty movies3

From the earliest times, films have expressed the political views of their creators. These views may be conservative or hegemonic (in favor of the status quo and its various economic, gender, or ethnic power relationships), but they may also be liberal or even radical (in favor of moderate or drastic social change). Legally themed ← 220 | 221 → films are particularly well suited to transmit political messages. Many of the films discussed in this book pack a powerful political charge: To Kill a Mockingbird (Chapter 3) criticizes racialized criminal justice process; 12 Angry Men (Chapter 9) glorifies the jury system; A Civil Action (Chapter 12)...

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