Movies can be particularly useful in civics classes, where they help students see government functions in action. Each of the following eight movies would be compelling demonstrations of how our civil society functions.
This musical describes the political debates in the Continental Congress prior to the 1776 decision to declare American independence. Viewers get an intimate look at the types of values that were important during the revolutionary era and see how our nascent government operated.
- Amistad (1997)
This film depicts the slave revolt aboard a Portuguese ship and the subsequent court case regarding the escaped Africans’ fate in the United States. Students get an interesting look at the legal system and are forced to reflect on the nation’s history of legal racial discrimination.
- Inherit the Wind (1960)
A fictionalized the famous 1925 Scopes “Monkey” trial. Viewers gain an appreciation for how the clash between science and tradition can play out in American courtrooms.
- To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Based on the Harper Lee novel of the same name, in this film a prominent lawyer in 1930s Alabama fights for the freedom of a young black man wrongly accused of rape. The movie painfully illustrates the failure of American courts to provide justice in a highly racist society.
- 12 Angry Men (1957)
This film depicts the deliberations of a fictional jury in a contentious murder trial. Viewers get an inside look at the methods of a jury and gain an understanding of the difficulty of finding a defendant guilty.
- Selma (2014)
This more recent film shows the history of marches for voting rights for black Americans in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Students learn about the civil rights movement and the history of protest in American politics.
- All the President’s Men (1976)
This film shows the work of Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they uncover the details of the Watergate Scandal. Students get an inside look at one of the most compelling constitutional crises in our history.
- Wag the Dog (1997)
In this movie, war is used as a ploy to distract the public from the president’s salacious activities. It demonstrates the potential for media manipulation and unethical behavior among our leaders.