By Lau Xuan Kai (Singapore)
In To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, Tom Robinson, a black man, was accused of raping a white woman. Without sufficient evidence to prove that he was guilty, he was sentenced to death by the court anyway. The above reference draws parallel to the issues that are explored in the film 12 Angry Men, as in many occasions the men’s judgment was obscured by racial prejudice, so much that they could not make a clear, rational decision whether or not to prosecute the Afro-American boy. The film explores how negotiation can be used to persuade and allow rooms for reconsideration of absolute verdict.
One reason why the 12 men were unable to derive a collective agreement is due to some of their inability to separate the people from the problem. This is crucially illustrated in the film as Davis, the first man who voted ‘not guilty’ for the boy’s case, blatantly reveals how ‘[Racial] prejudice always obscures the truth’ and hence some of these men are not capable to offer an impartial view about the boy, who is Black-skinned. Furthermore, racist remarks were repeatedly thrown out by a few men, such as ‘They’re all alike’, ‘You know how these people lie. It’s born in them’, ‘They get drunk, oh, they’re real big drinkers, all of them’ ‘That’s the way they are, by nature’. By distinctly drawing a boundary between the boy and the white men, the jurors are not able to view the case and the boy’s racial identity as a separate issue. Majority of their judgments over the boy were based on his race and his living background, not based on facts. Therefore, the film suggests how, if we separate the people from the problem, can we negotiate to bring about a more rational and mutually promising outcome.
The premise of 12 Angry Men suggests that ‘every negotiator has two kinds of interests: in the substance and in the relationship’. The sole reason why Davis voted ‘not guilty’, was because the life of an adolescent is at stake based on the 12 juries’ final decision – hence decided that it was only right to take time to talk things through. Eventually, the other men were made aware of the importance of the impact of their decisions and thereby conformed to be confined in the space to decide collectively. The word ‘killer’ that is constantly used in the film also reflects how the difference in the men’s decision to pass their judgment may attribute to the prosecution of the boy. This is especially prominent in the film when one of the men flared up at the 7th juror who was in a rush to his baseball match because he chose to change his vote to not guilty simply to avoid the inconvenience of further ‘pointless’ arguments. His nonchalance and misusing of his power that may affect the life of a human were therefore condemned by the other men. Even though Davis did not know if the boy was really guilty or not for the murder of his father, it is the fact that Davis was aware of the impact the 12 men have on the boy’s life, which led Davis to negotiate the case even if he had to face the other 11 men head on.
The film also reflects how arguing over positions produces unwise agreements. At the end of the film, the 3rd juror was unable to let go of his ego to change his stance even though he no longer had any relevant and rational judgment to support his rights to vote ‘guilty’. He therefore found himself to have an internal struggle, only to be ashamed of his defeat as he slumped onto the table. His rational behind why he insists on pleading the boy as guilty is indeed unwise because he is unable to substantiate his arguments. It is also significant to note how a loud and rowdy man he was left speechless after he was being called ‘a self-appointed public avenger’ who only wanted to prosecute the boy without coherent facts. His arguing over positions may also reflect racial discrimination as he wanted to deal away the boy for ‘self-satisfaction’ purposes.
Finally, the film sums up how Davis was constantly looking for mutual gains where the result be based on some fair standards independent of the will of either side. Even though he had to face 11 other men who opposed him, Davis tried to understand each of their point of view and their rationality behind their verdict. It eventually produced convincing results as by further trying to comprehend where each man are trying to get at, Davis tried and tested in many ways to prove and convince them, deriving in an agreeable negotiation. We can see that from Davis trying to pace the room to simulate the crippled witness, making the 8th juror recognise and understand emotions by questioning him on whether he could remember the movies he watched in the condition where he was not in emotional distress. Davis as the protagonist of 12 Angry Men is thereby strongly represented as an effective negotiator that we could of him as a character.