Doing Justice

GenEd 0853



Using Black's Framework to Interpret a Movie

The purpose of this assignment is to explain how part of a film that you have viewed for this course illustrates one of the themes described by Black (1976) in his book The Behavior of Law. The interaction or action must involve an agent of a justice agency as a key figure.

More specifically, in this assignment you will describe one specific interaction or action or sequence of interactions or actions that appear in the film, and explain how what happened illustrates a specific idea in Black's conceptual framework. In short you are applying a portion of his framework to a portion of the movie you have viewed.

There are several ways to go about this paper incorrectly. Mistakes commonly made include: describing generally what happened and not focusing on a specific action or interaction; using an action or interaction that does not involve an agent of justice as a key figure; trying to use many of Black's ideas, rather then focusing on just one; and failing to precisely state how the movie element selected iillustrates the specific point from Black's conceptual model.

Your paper will have the following sections. Number each section in your paper.

1. Introduce a key Black idea or hypothesis. Reference it appropriately, being sure to cite page numbers. A very short quote is acceptable, but keep it short and reference it properly. . See Jerry Ratcliffe's reference guide.

2. A short plot summary in your own words that summarizes what happens in the move. No more than three or four lines. Focus on main developments. Be sure you appropriately reference the movie in your list of references.

3. Describe the specific action or interaction or sequence on which you have decided to focus. In just a few sentences make it clear who did what to whom and why (or why they said) they did it. Strongly recommend a very short quote of dialogue from the film. Use the characters' film names.

4. Now comes the heart of your paper. Translate what is happening in the elements you have selected, into the key element from Black's framework. Stated differently, how would these interactions or actions be interpreted using the specific element of Black's framework you have selected? The actions or interactions on which you focus could be addressing either the "justice agencies acting" part of Black's model or the "varying perceptions of crime seriousness" section of Black's model. See the Student Readers Guide for more details.

5. Offer a short paragraph in which you conclude with a personal reaction.

6. You will want to correctly reference both the movie (film name, year, studio name), and Black, and any other sources you use.

* typed, double spaced, 12 pitch font
* 2 pages (500 words) including references


Attica (1974) (documentary) (VHS)
Institution: Corrections
A dramatization of the days leading up to the Attica (1971) prison riot, the riot itself, and the ending. Based on Tom Wicker's factual account in his book A Time to Die. Much attention is given to the question of the legitimacy of the prisoners' demands, and the forces affecting State Commissioner Oswald which limited his possible responses.

Banlieue 13 (2004) (French with English subtitles) (English/Canadian version: District 13 or District B13)
Institution: Policing generally
This  near-future scenario introduced the world to the sport of urban running or parcours (
David Belle & Cyril Raffaelli are the runners). The plot is wacky involving ineffective police, drug lords, and a neutron bomb. Most relevant from the point of view of this course is how the police no longer police entire communities, having become largely ineffective, and ceding control to the mega drug lords. Raises interesting questions: when does drug dealing and wholesaling become so widespread and such a powerful political force that it can no longer be viewed as a serious crime?

Brute Force (1947)
Institution: Corrections
This drama stars Burt Lancaster and was directed by the famous French director Jules Dassin. Surprisingly realistic in its portrayal of extensive gang violence in large prisons at that time, the public pressures on prisons to keep things quiet and costs low, and the sometimes sadistic things guards will do to ensure things run smoothly. Very unrealistic in its portrayal of a bunch of good joes who just made a simple mistake and ended up in prison. Nevertheless, although it is at bottom a simple "prison break" movie, it provides a thoughtful albeit perhaps nihilistic view about the chances of having well run large prisons.

Dead End (1937) with Humphrey Bogart
Institution: Juvenile Reform Schools
This drama, based on the award winning Broadway play scripted by Lillian Hellman, depicts the end of a street in a rundown tenement on the East Side of Manhattan at a time when gentrification was forcing the rich to rub elbows with the very poor. The main story line is about a young kid who cannot stay out of trouble, despite his older sister's best efforts, and what happens when a hood who grew up in the neighborhood returns. Most relevant for the course theme is what happens when the Dead End Kids beat up a rich kid, and the kid's father gets the police after the culprit(s).

Dirty Harry (1971) with Clint Eastwood, directed by Don Siegel
Institution: Police and the courts (the latter around search and seizure)
When Clint Eastwood was finished with spaghetti westerns, he started a series of Dirty Harry movies. This is the first. The main plot line is simply: there is a serial sniper on the loose in San Francisco, at a time when the courts in the U.S. and perhaps especially in San Francisco where this was shot cared more about the rights of criminals than the rights of victims.

Ghosts of Attica (2001) (documentary)
Institution: Corrections
Offers an account of America's most violent prison rebellion, its suppression, and the days of torture that ensued. Uses newly uncovered video of the assault, interviews with eyewitnesses who've never spoken before on camera, and footage of inmates and hostages throughout their battles against the state. This film unravels a deep cover-up, and shows how the riot transformed the lives of its survivors. Includes interviews with former inmate, Frank "Big Black" Smith, former guard Mike Smith, and others.

Magnum Force (1973) with Clint Eastwood
Institution: Police
Less realistic than "Dirty Harry." Assumes a band of California Highway Patrol have gone rogue, and are meting out vigilante justice. Harry takes care of them.

Private Hell 36 (1954) with Ida Lupino, directed by Don Siegel
Institution: Police, and their temptations to corruption
Two officers, one married with a kid, another single, impetuous and willing to cut corners, get assigned to a counterfeit case where Ida Lupino holds the key. They find the guy, they chase, he cracks up, the fake money spills out and... the police get some ideas.

Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)
Institution: Corrections
Prison administrators try to work with prisoner who has valuable information. It all goes horribly wrong.

Serpico (1973) with Al Pacino
Institution: Police and corruption
Based on the real case of Frank Serpico, NYPD, who exposed widespread corruption in his department, and was forced to pay for it.

Thunder Road (1958) with Robert Mitchum
Institution: Law Enforcement and victimless crime (moonshining)
Written and directed by Mitchum. Co-starring his son. Moonshiners in backwoods NC/TN are getting squeezed on one side by organized crime moving into the area, and on the other by Federal ATF agents.  Still people decide how to fight it. Guess who dies?

The Wrong Man (1956) with Henry Fonda, directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Institution: Police and treatment of suspects
This is the only non-fictional film Hitchcock ever did. Based on an actual incident in Brooklyn where a bass player at the Stork Club in NYS, Manny Balustrero, is taken into custody as a suspect for a series of armed holdups, and incriminates himself. This was pre-Miranda v. Arizona. Highly realistic. Shot on location in Brooklyn. They even opened up the courthouse for the filming. Fonda actually learned to play double bass so he could play in the opening scene. The way this blue collar, stable family comes completely undone because of a case of mistaken identity is troubling.



Note: you can lose points for mis-spelled words and flagrant grammatical errors. Total points possible
TUID on each page, no name 5
Typed, double spaced, proper font (12 pitch), proper margins, 2 pages; lose points if you go over or are too short or do not follow typing instructions 4
Section 1: Key Black Idea Introduced (0) not there (2) included, but a list of ideas is presented rather then one fully developed (4) included, with a focus on one idea or hypothesis, but element of theory not correctly or clearly explained (5) included, clearly explained in the student's own words, focus on just one idea (6) included, clearly explained in the student's own words, focus on just one idea, key quote included 6
Adequacy of plot summary (0) not included   (5) included but mostly incorrect or confusing   (10) included, clear, correct, concise, and in student's own words 10
Description of specific interaction or sequence (0) not included (3) included but extremely hard to follow   (7) included, clear, easy to follow (10) included, clear, easy to follow, key quote included, characters clearly and correctly identified 10
Black explanation of sequence (0) Not included (20) Connection made, but it is not appropriate either because a) a wrong element of the  Black model has been selected and/or b) the Black element has been mis-interpreted and/or c) the movie action or interaction has been misinterpreted (30) Connection made, but the connection does not appear to be appropriate either on the theory side or the movie side, and/or the theory element selected is only marginally relevant (40) Connection made, but explanation is not as clear as it could be; logic of how and why this piece of the Black model applies is not clearly presented, even though the element of the Black model selected is appropriate (50) clear connection made; explanation is appropriate both on the theory and the movie side; persuasive argument made about why this is a relevant perspective on this element of the movie 50
Personal reaction (0) not included   (5) included, and makes sense, but could be more thoughtful   (10) included, makes sense, and is thoughtful 10
References, formatting         All references included, properly in-line cited 5