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Framing Female Lawyers

Framing Female Lawyers

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    Framing Female Lawyers
    Book Description:

    As real women increasingly entered the professions from the 1970s onward, their cinematic counterparts followed suit. Women lawyers, in particular, were the protagonists of many Hollywood films of the Reagan-Bush era, serving as a kind of shorthand reference any time a script needed a powerful career woman. Yet a close viewing of these films reveals contradictions and anxieties that belie the films' apparent acceptance of women's professional roles. In film after film, the woman lawyer herself effectively ends up "on trial" for violating norms of femininity and patriarchal authority.

    In this book, Cynthia Lucia offers a sustained analysis of women lawyer films as a genre and as a site where other genres including film noir, maternal melodrama, thrillers, action romance, and romantic comedy intersect. She traces Hollywood representations of female lawyers through close readings of films from the 1949Adam's Ribthrough films of the 1980s and 1990s, includingJagged Edge,The Accused, andThe Client, among others. She also examines several key male lawyer films and two independent films, Lizzie Borden'sLove Crimesand Susan Streitfeld'sFemale Perversions. Lucia convincingly demonstrates that making movies about women lawyers and the law provides unusually fertile ground for exploring patriarchy in crisis. This, she argues, is the cultural stimulus that prompts filmmakers to create stories about powerful women that simultaneously question and undermine women's right to wield authority.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79703-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-26)

    In the 1949 filmAdam’s Rib, often classified as a screwball comedy, assistant district attorney Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy), surprisingly finds his wife opposing him in the courtroom. Defending a woman accused of assaulting her unfaithful husband, attorney Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn) attempts to reread and reshape the law to reflect progressive values, part of the postwar discourse surrounding the ʺNew Woman.ʺ¹ Although he considers himself to hold these same values, Adam regards his wifeʹs actions as an assault upon law and, by extension, a challenge to himself. Defensive and significantly weakened in the face of Amandaʹs courtroom strategies, Adam...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Law Is the Law: Adamʹs Rib and The Verdict
    (pp. 27-45)

    Though separated by more than three decades,Adam’s RibandThe Verdictcan be viewed usefully as precursors to the contemporary female lawyer film. Both films announce, either overtly or subtextually, the problems arising when women operate in the sphere designated traditionally as male. And both films raise questions about empowering women within the legal arena—either as lawyers or as litigants—mediating those questions that circulated in more general terms around postwar discourse on the New Woman and later around debates concerning ratification of the ERA.

    In framing its debate,Adam’s Rib—a narrative of dual focus on a...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Father Knows Best: Female Lawyers as Daughters in Music Box and Class Action
    (pp. 46-81)

    Divided between love for her father and knowledge that he took part in Nazi war crimes some forty years earlier, Ann Talbot (Jessica Lange), the female lawyer inMusic Box(1989), silently addresses an envelope to the same federal prosecutor she defeated in defense of her father. Into this envelope she places newly discovered photographs proving her fatherʹs guilt. These photographic images, alone, finally convince Ann. Despite compelling trial testimony of numerous Hungarian American witnesses, speaking graphically of atrocities ʺMishkaʺ committed in Budapest, and despite an Arrow Cross identification card picturing her father in uniform,¹ Ann refuses to believe in...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Female Lawyers and the Maternal: The Client and Defenseless
    (pp. 82-101)

    While the terms of interrogation inMusic BoxandClass Actionare most strongly focused around the female lawyer as daughter,The Client(1994) andDefenseless(1991) inscribe patriarchy through the actual or implied absence of father or family, an absence that complicates notions of the maternal, particularly in relationship to the female lawyer. As inMusic Boxand several films to be discussed in later chapters, mothering inThe Clientis centered on a male child, since something more significant seems at stake when a young son is involved. The female lawyer inThe Clientis defined almost entirely...

  8. CHAPTER 4 A Question of Genre: Jagged Edge and Guilty as Sin
    (pp. 102-127)

    InJagged EdgeGlenn Close plays corporate attorney Teddy Barnes—her characterʹs name perhaps modeling the many androgynous names of female lawyers to follow (among them, T. K. inDefenseless, Grey inCurly Sue, Dana inLove Crimes, Jo inA Few Good Men, Darby inThe Pelican Brief, and Reggie inThe Client). Although preceded by the comediesSeems Like Old Times(1980) andFirst Monday in October(1981), as well as the 1983 dramaHanna K.(an American-French coproduction),Jagged Edgemarks the first of the main body of female lawyer films that began appearing with regularity from...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Female Power and Masculine Crisis: Investigation, Action, and Romance
    (pp. 128-154)

    Dennis Quaid plays the male lead in bothThe Big EasyandSuspect, opposite female lawyers played by Ellen Barkin (an assistant district attorney) and Cher (a public defender), respectively. InThe Big EasyQuaid is Remy McSwain, a New Orleans police lieutenant who offhandedly accepts the little ʺperksʺ that go along with being a cop, including weekly kickback payments from the ʺwidows and orphans fund,ʺ amassed from shakedowns of bar and restaurant owners persuaded to invest in ʺextra protection.ʺ Laid-back and informal, Remy sees himself as one of the ʺgood guys,ʺ in opposition to the view held by Anne...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Genre, Gender, and Law: The Female Lawyer Narrative and Its Influence
    (pp. 155-170)

    The pull of the private sphere and the heterosexual imperative mobilized to contain the female lawyerʹs agency in films of the 1980s and beyond harkens back to earlier films featuring female lawyers produced in the 1920s and 1930s. The private sphere has also become an increasingly powerful source of anxiety in male lawyer narratives of the 1990s, perhaps, in part, a response to the female lawyer films of the preceding decade. While both groups of films are worthy of their own comprehensive studies, a brief glimpse at these groups here will help further define the influences shaping the female lawyer...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Feminist Address and Spectatorship in The Accused, Love Crimes, and Female Perversions
    (pp. 171-226)

    In her discussion of Hollywood films with female protagonists acting as legal investigators—ranging from FBI agents and police officers to crime victims themselves—Yvonne Tasker describes a condition shared by many female lawyers in film. ʺWomen, it seems, are involved in transgression even and to the extent that they are represented as lawmakers or enforcers,ʺ a condition influenced, she argues, by ʺa working out of issues around womenʹs sexuality which, like womenʹs ambitions and their friendships, is a realm seemingly in need of almost constant policingʺ (Tasker 1998, 93). Attempting to mask or elide the conditions of such policing,...

  12. CONCLUSION Female Lawyers in the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 227-236)

    Propelled into the new century, female lawyer narratives continue to appear, withErin Brokovich(a legal assistant) in 2000;Legally BlondeandI Am Samin 2001,High CrimesandTwo Weeks Noticein 2002,The StatementandLegally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blondein 2003, and, in 2004,Laws of Attraction. If the concentrated interrogation of the female lawyer has subsided to some degree within these films, perhaps that is because the notion of women in law is now a given, an irreversible trend in a country where women, in 2001, comprised more than 50 percent of law school...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 237-248)
    (pp. 249-250)
    (pp. 251-256)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 257-270)