Trial Films on Trial


Trial Films on Trial



Austin Sarat, Jessica Silbey, and Martha Merrill Umphrey


A collection of wide-ranging critical essays that examine how the judicial system is represented on screen

Historically, the emergence of the trial film genre coincided with the development of motion pictures. In fact, one of the very first feature-length films, Falsely Accused!, released in 1908, was a courtroom drama. Since then, this niche genre has produced such critically acclaimed films as Twelve Angry Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Anatomy of a Murder. The popularity and success of these films can be attributed to the fundamental similarities of filmic narratives and trial proceedings. Both seek to construct a “reality” through storytelling and representation and in so doing persuade the audience or jury to believe what they see.

Trial Films on Trial: Law, Justice, and Popular Culture is the first book to focus exclusively on the special significance of trial films for both film and legal studies. The contributors to this volume offer a contemporary approach to the trial film genre. Despite the fact that the medium of film is one of the most pervasive means by which many citizens receive come to know the justice system, these trial films are rarely analyzed and critiqued. The chapters cover a variety of topics, such as how and why film audiences adopt the role of the jury, the narrative and visual conventions employed by directors, and the ways mid-to-late-twentieth-century trial films offered insights into the events of that period.



Publication Date



The University of Alabama Press


Tuscaloosa, AL


law, justice, popular culture, film, courtroom dramas, trial proceedings


Broadcast and Video Studies | Criminal Law | Critical and Cultural Studies | Evidence | Law | Law and Society | Legal Education | Legal Writing and Research

Trial Films on Trial