Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1-1-2010

Abstract

Popular film has a lot to teach us about social narratives of law. Both law and film are story-telling, narrative systems. Accordingly, films about law are "overdetermined" in terms of narrative: they are stories about stories. Race is also a narrative system in which visual representation is key. The significance of the visual apprehension of race is deeply relevant to the legal construction of race as well. For example, in early citizenship cases and racial "passing" cases which persisted through the latter part of the 2 0th century. Since society constructs racial categories in large part by visual identification and experience, all visual media, including film, necessarily participate in the constitution of race. Thus, films do not simply depict supposedly free-standing, objective, racial categories naturalized by the dominant discourse, but instead actually participate in the creation of race. As part of standard Hollywood practice, the mainstream film audience is constructed through identification with a norm of "whiteness. "Since that audience, when viewing a law film, is actively involved in constituting the law as part of its spectatorship, it follows that mainstream films construct law from the perspective of white privilege. The consequences and effects of this cinematic construction of law are many. This article discusses three main effects: 1) the raced construction of the lawyer-hero; 2) the denial or displacement of the law's role in constructing race and race-based discrimination; and 3) the suppression or revision of politics and political history.