As required by law, I answered my jury summons today. They packed us into a large waiting room, equipped with a few magazines, a coffee machine – and several big-screen TVs strategically located for easy viewing.
After explaining how to fill out the paperwork, they showed us a brief documentary about our civic duties as jurors. I thought it was pretty good. It did a fine job of reminding us that even though we’re being inconvenienced, ultimately, those of us who are selected will make a decision that will profoundly impact the lives of others. I got the impression that none of us took our duties lightly after viewing the film.
Both the movie and the young woman who guided us made it clear that we are not, under any circumstances, to consult newspapers, computers or smartphones to look up anything about pending cases. Anything that might compromise our absolute objectivity would be grounds for dismissal – or worse.
Over the course of the next few (very boring) hours, they played a couple of movies on the TVs. The first one was a Christmas special that I’m not familiar with; I spent my time reading. When that movie ended, and we got closer to the actual selection process, they played a second movie: The Blind Side.
I’ve never seen the film, and I spent the time during its showing pacing back and forth. But it was obvious that this film, like so many others, portrays blacks in an idealized light. Indeed, according to The Wire:
- ‘Is Sandra Bullock’s New Movie Racist?’ asks Thaddeus Russell at the Daily Beast. He accuses the film of pacifying Oher, molding him into an unrealistically noble and non-threatening “black saint.” As such, Russell argues, Oher takes on the trappings of a stereotype that emerged in the 1950s, as white, liberal filmmakers sought to change negative perceptions of African Americans. Ultimately, he says, the take is a patronizing one:
His table manners are impeccable. He exhibits virtually no sexual desire. He is never angry and shuns violence except when necessary to protect the white family that adopted him or the white quarterback he was taught to think of as his brother. In other words, Michael Oher is the perfect black man.
I couldn’t help but wonder, if some of these jurors were confronted by a large black male defendant, mightn’t they identify with him in much the same way they were identifying with “Big Mike” in the movie? Notice how captivated they are by the movie:
What we’re looking at is the court staff indoctrinating the jury pool, polluting it with propaganda that might seriously compromise its ability to serve as impartial jurors. I found it ironic that the title of the movie so perfectly illustrates the blindness of today’s officialdom. Then again, these people had already been exposed to thousands of other films just like it – and they haven’t got a clue that they cannot help but be biased in favor of “marginalized, underprivileged, persecuted and disadvantaged” young black men. Not that they’re unable to find them guilty in the face of strong evidence, but more than likely, there’s a greater burden of proof to convict a black man than to convict a white man. Nobody wants to seem “racist.”
Was the showing of this film an intentional attempt to reduce conviction rates for black defendants? I’d like to think not, but stranger things have happened.