When playwright Reginald Rose adapted his own experience serving on a jury in manslaughter case into the script for “Twelve Angry Men ,” the most likely composition of a jury in such a case in that period of time was overwhelmingly or completely white and male, and that is...
When playwright Reginald Rose adapted his own experience serving on a jury in manslaughter case into the script for “Twelve Angry Men,” the most likely composition of a jury in such a case in that period of time was overwhelmingly or completely white and male, and that is reflected in the early productions of the play on both television and on screen during the early 1950s. Both racism and sexism were prevalent in American culture and, the former is reflected in the script, evident in the following comments by Juror #10 regarding the unseen defendant’s apparently Hispanic ethnicity:
“You saw this kid just like I did. You’re not going to tell me you believe that phony story about losing the knife, and that business about being at the movies. Look, you know how these people lie! It’s born in them! . . .They don’t know what the truth is! And lemme tell ya: they don’t need any real big reason to kill someone either! No, sir!”
This outburst by Juror #10, described in the play’s production notes as a bitter, angry racist, is a deliberate intrusion into the deliberative process by the stereotypical white male conservative of that age. That all parts were envisioned with white male actors was, as noted, partly a product of the times, but it was also influenced by the vision director Sidney Lumet brought to the process. While Rose wrote the original play, Lumet adapted it according to his career-long interest in the dynamics among white males, evident in many of his films, including “Prince of the City,” “Serpico,” “Q & A,” and “The Verdict.” By placing 12 men of disparate backgrounds and temperaments in a small, claustrophobic, unventilated room in the middle of a Manhattan summer day, and having the defendant presented as a racial minority, Rose and Lumet were able to present the jury dynamics they most wanted to illuminate.
Subsequent productions of “Twelve Angry Men” for stage and television have introduced racial diversity into the proceedings, but none have, as yet, gone so far as to transform it into “Twelve Angry People” through inclusion of women in the cast, although, that would clearly lend an additional element to the drama.