12 Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lumit emphasizes the importance of cultural and social change. Compressed into an intense and claustrophobic 96 minutes, the script and performances do a effective job of highlighting and exaggerating some big points not only concerning social norms, but ways in which social change can occur. These ideas were particularly important and influential when the movie was released- 1957. 12 Angry Men aired in a nation recovering from WWII and the Cold War, one in the midst of a conflict between communism and capitalism, one struggling to give its minorities and its women equal rights. The 1950s was a decade ripe with social injustice and fear of those different from the norm.
12 Angry Men is set in a jury room after the trial of a young boy accused of murdering his father. The boy was of a lower class and came from a poor section of the city, an aspect that made him easy to convict by some of the jurors through stereotype alone. A few more of the jurors convicted the boy at first because they didn’t want to stand out of the crowd and make themselves vulnerable due to social pressures and hostile attitudes of a few other jurors. Ultimately, the conflict comes down to two men- Juror 8, an architect, the first dissenter and protagonist. (played by Henry Fonda) and Juror 3, the antagonist, a businessman and distraught father who is opinionated, disrespectful, and stubborn. (played by Lee J. Cobb). Juror 3 represents the leaders of all oppressive movements of the age- racism, sexism, and classism- in that he seems impossible to argue with reasonably and impossible to conquer as a minority, like Juror 8 was I the beginning of the movie. But as the conclusion of 12 Angry Men illustrates, these leaders of oppression are not evil, but scared human beings just like ourselves. Human beings that cling to an idea or hatred because they know nothing else and their own life is falling apart around them. Juror 3 had issues with his own son and was taking out his anger and misplaced fatherly discipline upon the young defendant. This view of the protagonist as not wholly evil in maters of social justice not only made their view more understandable, but made them more relatable and less undefeatable. In the end, Juror 8 convinced Juror 3 to do the right thing by relating to him and understanding his situation as opposed to through violence, bullying or fear mongering. This method had big implications for methods of social change at the most pivotal point of change in United States history. Dr. Martin Luther King, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Rosa Parks were some of those who followed the example of Juror 8- victory through understanding.
When first released, 12 Angry Men was outshone by the new “in color” productions of the time and performed dismally in the box office. Only when it reached its television debut did the film finally find its audience- the wider American public. Almost every household owned a television at this point in history; even the poor could afford a cheaper one. When 12 Angry Men reached the people who really needed social change, its full impact was realized.