Undergraduate Honors Thesis Projects

Date of Award

Fall 11-11-2021

Document Type

Honors Paper

Degree Name

English Literary Studies-BA




Karen Steigman

First Committee Member

Karen Steigman

Second Committee Member

Paul Eisenstein

Third Committee Member

Michele Acker


True Crime, Legal Drama, 12 Angry Men, OJ Simpson, Courtroom Drama

Subject Categories

Criminal Law | Film and Media Studies | Higher Education


Numerous American films have portrayed jurors who make difficult decisions together in order to fairly and justly decide a case. Serving on a jury is the main role that an average American plays in the legal system, which helps explain why movies about court cases, and specifically about juries, are popular in America. In this thesis, I will use the film theory of spectatorship, which studies how a spectator comes to view themselves in relation to a film, to look more closely at the portrayal of trial by jury in American cinema. I will also be using the idea of ethical spectatorship, which is the theory that films can either be ethical in themselves, or cause an ethical reaction in the spectator. The jury system is foundational to our democracy, so jury films attempt to instill a sense of patriotism and morality in viewers, while educating viewers on what jury duty looks like. This project will discuss the dichotomy between the actual justice system and the justice system that is portrayed in films, and I will study the narrative strategies and visual techniques used in films about juries to explore this idea. The discussion of the films will explore the pedagogical concepts of the lone juror, the idealized juror, the tampered juror, and the rogue juror, and what each type of juror teaches viewers. In addition to studying films, I will also be looking at how the pivotal televised court case of O.J. Simpson turned the focus away from films to true crime. True crime has, to some extent, replaced legal dramas, but both formats relate to viewers in the same way. Watching true crime documentaries, and listening to true crime podcasts, turns viewers and listeners into the jury. American citizens believe in the jury system, but do not wish to serve on a real jury because of the inconvenience of setting aside their daily lives. Watching legal dramas and consuming true crime content solves the cognitive dissonance between admiring the jury system but not wanting to serve by instilling in viewers a sense of morality.

Licensing Permission

Copyright, all rights reserved. Fair Use

Available for download on Sunday, December 07, 2025