Twelve Angry Men - Ethics and Leadership
Twelve Angry Men (1957)
Henry Fonda’s performance as the leader of a twelve man jury in a murder trial, fighting
Controversially he didn’t even receive an Oscar nomination.
Sidney Lumet (pictured right) also the director of the whistle-blowing film,
The Bridge on the River
Kwai got most of the Oscars that year.
Juror 8 (Henry Fonda), leader of the jury (pictured right).
A poor (Puerto Rican or Hispanic) 18-year-old youth is on trial in a New York court for murdering
his father with a knife.
If found guilty, he (pictured right) will be executed by the electric chair. He says he is innocent,
- he was at the cinema at the time of the murder.
- his knife fell through his pocket.
After the six day trial, the twelve man, all white jury (pictured right below) retires to consider
their verdict, having been reminded by the judge that the boy must be found innocent, if there is any
reasonable doubt about his guilt.
On a boiling hot day all the jurors vote for his conviction except Juror 8, an architect (later
called Davis), who persuades his weary colleagues to re-examine the evidence.
His defence of the accused drags on into an even hotter night.
He gradually wins the others over until they unanimously vote for a not guilty verdict.
Lessons for ethics and leadership
1. We have a duty to
The jury has someone’s life in their hands but only Juror 8:
- takes this responsibility seriously.
The others show how easy it is to be lazy, indifferent and
unloving to others, particularly if they come from a poor ethnic minority like the boy charged
Juror 7 (a salesman) is more anxious about seeing an evening baseball game.
Juror 12 is more concerned about his career in advertising.
2. Stand up for what is right
- shows great courage and determination defending the boy.
- says he can’t be convicted because there is reasonable doubt about his guilt.
- emphasizes the boy deserves their attention (because of his incompetent lawyer and bad
- lost his mother when he was nine.
- (since he was five) was beaten up by his father.
Juror 11 asks Juror 7:
“Don't you have the guts to do what you think is right?”
3. Seek the truth
Juror 8 is a hero, because he:
- relentlessly pursues the truth.
- says that someone else with a similar knife could have committed the murder.
- points out that the key prosecution witness wasn't wearing her glasses when she allegedly
saw the boy do the murder.
- gradually persuades the others (despite constant criticism from them) - pictured right
above with the first juror he won over.
4. Integrity inspires
The other jurors are won over by Juror 8’s:
This makes him the jury’s leader, even though he’s not their appointed leader (see point
5. Power beats
Juror 1 is chosen as foreman to lead the jury, but Juror 8 (pictured right) becomes the real leader
- conviction (based upon his dedication to the truth).
- knowledge (which gives him power over the
6. Beware of arrogant prejudice
The last juror to be won over (Juror 3, Lee J. Cobb, pictured right) runs a
messenger business. He is:
Juror 10 thinks he's guilty only because he is
7. Accept your own ignorance
Juror 8 is a hero because he convinces the others to humbly accept that they may be wrong.
Juror 9 (the first person to support him) tells Juror 10 :
“Do you think you were born with a monopoly on the truth?”
8. Be empathetic and kind
Juror 8 tells the others to see the case from the charged man's point of view. He
asks Juror 6:
“Suppose you were the one who was on trial?”
Juror 8 acts with kindness as well as tough resolution. After the final
unanimous verdict, he helps Juror 3 (his violent adversary) on with his jacket, when he is upset about his son.
9. We are all capable of greatness
Juror 8 was an ordinary guy (an architect called Davis) who did something extraordinary -
he saved someone's life by the power of persuasion.
Key quotes on law and ethics
It’s not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first, Juror
Don't you have the guts to do what you think is right?, Juror 11 (to Juror 7)
Key quote on
Prejudice always obscures the truth, Juror 8.
Do you think you were born with a monopoly on the
truth?, Juror 9 (to Juror 10)
Key quote on influencing
It's not easy to
stand alone against the ridicule of others, so he gambled for support - and I gave it to him. I respect his
motives, Juror 9 (talking about Juror 8)
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)