12 Angry Men was originally a play written in 1954 by Reginald Rose and was later adapted into a movie in 1957 starring Henry Fonda in 1957. The story opens on a jury that is already in the middle of deliberating a case involving a 19 year old teenage boy that is accused of killing his father with a switchblade. If the jury does not rule in his favor, he must face the electric chair. The judge has instructed the jury that a mandatory death penalty will follow a guilty verdict. All 12 jurors must vote unanimously.
Twelve jurors, all male spend the next several, painstaking hours deciding on the case before them. As their names and identities are kept hidden from each other, the jurors refer to each other by their jury number. Names are never used. This is symbolic of the prejudice that exists in man and how as a society we access individuals based on race, class and other outward identifiers.
As the story unfolds, we see the jurors are very agitated. It is an uncomfortable situation. They are all worn by the six day trial and all but one of them is ready to give a guilty verdict. It is the height of the summer in New York city, where summers are particularly hot and humid. They sit in a small room without much air and the majority is ready to decide and move on with their lives.
The jurors each bring their own personal experiences and biases to the table which make coming to a unanimous decision very difficult. To most, the evidence appears to be overwhelming. Neighbors heard a fight between the son and father. During the trial, a witness said he heard the son threaten to kill his father.
This thought provoking story has the audience examine the deep set prejudices based on fear and ignorance we hold against one another as a society. These men, all white, must decide the fate of a poor, uneducated Puerto Rican teenage boy. Many cannot relate to his situation, some display total indifference to his fate. Not only is this defendant on trial but so is the American Justice system as the story moves on to explore the weaknesses judicial in the system.
As we become familiar with the jurors, we begin to realize that their anger, fear, bias philosophies and cultural ignorance may hinder them from making a fair and just decision on the verdict of the case. But there is one particular juror that stands up for the defendant, ultimately standing up for justice. He is known as juror number 8.
The first vote among the jurors does not have a favorable result for the defendant. Eleven vote guilty. But juror number 8 stands his ground that the evidence is not strong enough to lead to a guilty verdict. And slowly he convinces the others to change their vote.
Juror number eight is able to successfully convince the others that there is enough reasonable doubt not to vote guilty. The others are able to look past their prejudices and now fairly examine the evidence. Because to the courage and persistence of one man, a life is spared which is a deeper lesson on how no matter how many we may be up against, it is important to stand up for what is just and fair. The 12 Angry Men become aware of their biases and from this experience they have learned how damaging their views can be.
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