Juror Number Six, a gripping short documentary film for the Internet, explores the symbiotic relationship between the media, race, crime and punishment. Punchy, personal, and political, the film presents the viewer as juror – we are all “Juror Number Six.”
Opening with the racially charged media monster case of all time: the O.J. Simpson murder trial. “Before O.J. Simpson, there was no Nancy Grace. Before O.J. Simpson, we didn’t have these programs that can around-the-clock cover crime and news the way that it does,” states Charles Ogletree Jr. of Harvard Law School.
“This was the ultimate crime story,” Joe Domanick, Senior Fellow for Criminal Justice, of USC’s Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism, says in the documentary. “You had race, you had violence, you had sex, you had sports—it all came together.” The Simpson trial also created a national appetite for court-related media coverage.
After making the Independent Lens film, Race To Execution – an exploration of race in the criminal justice system Juror Number Six was conceived as an outreach project and designed to specifically address the role of media in perpetrating bias. Through interviews with network journalists, death penalty attorneys, and internet industry experts, Juror Number Six examines how today’s 24/7 news, drama, and internet culture create a climate of fear-for-profit though around-the-clock crime coverage. Watching TV news, ‘reality’ cop-shows, rap music videos, and TV series such as CSI, we find minorities presented as potentially dangerous criminals, reinforcing perceptions that white, middle-class people are at risk of being attacked by people of color.
Far from merely reporting objectively on such cases, the media had become an active participant in the judicial process, with its relentless reporting on crime—and excessive focus on the race of criminal defendants—influencing juries and impacting sentences. “Crimes that get covered the most are crimes in which the victim is white,” says Renee Ferguson, an investigative reporter for NBC 5 News in Chicago. “The mug shots of people who’ve been picked up, they’re often black.”
Juror Number Six explores the impact of television crime dramas like CSI and Law & Order, which some legal experts say present an overly optimistic picture of a criminal justice system where attorneys, judges and jurors of color abound and miscarriages of justice are few. In reality, America’s legal system is overwhelmingly white: minority defendant are up to 30 times more likely to be sentenced to death than a white defendant convicted of the same crime.
“It’s an encouraging sign that the internet is not yet controlled by corporate America . . .You might not think media-influenced perceptions matter that much,” NBC’s Renee Ferguson remarks. “But when you bring those perceptions into a jury room, it does matter. …Do you really want decisions like that to be influenced by what a juror saw on cable TV last night?”
Juror Number Six is produced and directed by Emmy Award winner Rachel Lyon, written by Christine Intagliata and edited by Peter Rhodes. The Ford Foundation, Bentley College, DePaul University, and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities provided funding for Juror Number Six.