Writings on Law and Film




“Intercultural Cinema and the (Re)Envisioning of Law: Exploring Life, Death and Law in Atanarjuat and Before Tomorrow”

Full cite: Rebecca Johnson, “Intercultural Cinema and the (Re)Envisioning of Law:  Exploring Life, Death and Law in Atanarjuat and Before Tomorrow” in Timothy D. Peters and Karen Crawley, eds., Envisioning Legality: Law, Culture and Representation (Routledge, 2018), 228-248.

“Reimagining ‘The True North Strong and Free’: Reflections on Going to the Movies with James Boyd White”Atanarjuatposter

In this article, I discuss the process of developing a law-and-film based law school legal theory class called “Northern Jurisprudence: Inuit Law and Film”.  The course drew on a range of filmic texts, some made from the South about the North, and others made from the North about themselves.  I consider here the kind of resources available to legal academics seeking to do trans-systemic work in the context of history of colonialism.  Full Cite: Rebecca Johnson, “Reimagining ‘The True North Strong and Free’: Reflections on Going to the Movies with James Boyd White” in Julen Etxabe and Gary Watt, eds, Living in a Law Transformed: Encounters with the Works of James Boyd White (Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, 2014) 173-187.

“Justice and the Colonial Collision: Reflections on Stories of Intercultural Encounter in Law, Literature, Sculpture and Film”


In this piece, I look at the 1950s case of R v. Kikkik, an Inuit woman charged with murder and child abandonment, in a series of deaths following after the forced relocation of the Ahiarmiut people.  I explore the different ways this story is told in: the trial transcript; Farley Mowatt’s account of the story in his book The Desperate People; a series of Inuit carvings of the trial that were long housed in the Yellowknife Courthouse; and the 2001 documentary film account.  Full Cite: Rebecca Johnson, “Justice and the Colonial Collision: Reflections on Stories of Intercultural Encounter in Law, Literature, Sculpture and Film” (2012) 9 No Foundations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Law and Justice 68-96. [http://www.helsinki.fi/nofo/NoFo9JOHNSON.html]

“Television, Pleasure and the Empire of Force: Interrogating Law and Affect in Deadwood

The chapter appears in a collection of essays focusing on ‘television’ as a particular genre of study.  Here, i begin with the work started in my Living Deadwood piece (below), but extend it to focus on methodologies for working with television, focusing attention on narrative arcs, seriality, and cinematographic scenes of violence.  Full cite: Johnson, Rebecca, “Television, Pleasure and the Empire of Force: Interrogating Law and Affect in Deadwood” in Peter Robson & Jessica Silbey eds., Law and Justice on the Small Screen (London: Hart, 2012) 33-61.

“Living Deadwood: Imagination, Affect and the Persistence of the Past”

This piece looks at the HBO TV series “Deadwood“, asking questions about the structures of feeling that invite us to understand the colonial past in a particular way.  It considers the way the TV series captures a particular (imperial?) way of understanding capitalism as the foundation of our legal, political, and economic order.   Full cite: Johnson, Rebecca, “Living Deadwood: Imagination, Affect, and the Persistence of the Past” (2009) 62:4 Suffolk University Law Review 809-822.

Rapport minoritaire: La dissidence fait judge”images-7

This piece, in French, is co-authored with Marie-Claire Belleau & Valérie Bouchard.  In it, we consider the film’s exploration of ‘minority reports’, and set it alongside that which can be learned by exploring minority reports in the context of practices of dissent on the Supreme Court of Canada.  Full cite:  “Rapport minoritaire: La dissidence fait judge”, (2009) 21:1 Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 1

«Droit, cinéma et doute: Rapport Minoritaire»

This is a second piece in French, again in collaboration with Valérie Bouchard and Marie-Claire Belleau.  Again, we consider the links between judicial dissent, and minority reports (as explored in film), but with a stronger focus on the place of ‘doubt’ in practices of decisions-making.  Full cite: Valérie Bouchard, Marie-Claire Belleau et Rebecca Johnson, «Droit, cinéma et doute: Rapport Minoritaire» (2009)14:1 Lex Electronica, disponible sur < http://www.lex-electronica.org/docs/articles_230.pdf >

“Strange_Encounters: Exploring Law and Film in the Affective Register”

This piece is written with Ruth Buchanan. In it, we explore the possibilities for thinking which can be nudged into existence through heightened attention to that which is strange and unfamiliar in the encounter of law and film, that is, through attention to the place of affect in the constitution of legal subjectivities. We explore the tools available to law-and-film scholars, exploring scenes from The Piano, Minority Report and Deadman. Full cite: Ruth Buchanan and Rebecca Johnson, “Strange Encounters: Exploring Law and Film in the Affective Register” (2009) Studies in Law, Politics and Society 33-60.

“Mothers Babies and Jail”

This essay explores the Lisa Whitford case (the last mother allowed to keep her baby in a federal prison in Canada), and movies which represent prisons and women prisoners.  It asks also about our understanding of how indigenous women (whether with children or as children) interact with the criminal justice system, and considers filmmaker Christine Welsh’s documentary film about missing and murdered indigenous women, Finding Dawn. Full Cite:  Rebecca Johnson, “Mothers Babies and Jail” (2008) 8 University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class 47-70.

Law and the Leaky Woman”

In this article, I explore some of the ways in which law and popular culture are jointly implicated in the material construction and maintenance of gendered spaces, gendered bodies, gendered norms and gendered knowledge. I do so through drawing lines of connection between Symes v. Canada (a Canadian tax law case), a nursing mother in a Bristol pub, and Clint Eastwood’s film Unforgiven. This particular suturing of ideas flows from my efforts to make sense of my own experience of a strange encounter involving the triptych of ‘bars, breasts, and babies’.  Full Cite:  Rebecca Johnson, “Law and the Leaky Woman: the Saloon, the Liquor Licence, and Narratives of Containment”, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies Vol. 19, No. 2, June 2005, pp. 181–199.

“Getting The Insider’s Story Out”

This piece is written with Ruth Buchanan. Here, we use the insights gained by viewing and thinking critically about a range of Hollywood films to better illuminate the disciplinary blind spots of law. Both law and film are social institutions, engaged in telling stories about social life. Hollywood films are often critical of law and legal institutions. Law is dismissive of its representation within popular culture. However, law disregards cinematic cynicism about itself at its peril as there is much to learn by taking cinematic portrayals of law very seriously—not as representations of the truth of law, but as analogies for how law itself operates in constructing truth. We conclude that law requires a better conception of itself as a culturally productive institution. Law, like film, is not simply engaged in the finding of truth, but also more fundamentally in the making of meaning. Full Cite: Rebecca Johnson and Ruth Buchanan, “Getting The Insider’s Story Out: What Popular Film Can Tell Us About Legal Method’s Dirty Secrets” (2001) 20 Windsor. Y of Acc. to Just. 87-110.


In this paper, I explore the ways in which “normal” and “deviant” families are constructed, both in popular culture and in law. From popular culture, I examine the portrayal of normal family life in the movie, Leaving Normal. From law, I examine the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in Mossop v. Canada. In both instances, I explore the ways in which popular and legal discourses participate in shaping societal visions of the normal family.  While these discourses often construct a narrow description of the normal family, this description is not monolithic. Full cite:  Rebecca Johnson, “Leaving Normal:  Constructing the Family at the Movies and in Law” in  Lori G. Beaman ed., New Perspectives on Deviance:  The Construction of Deviance in Everyday Life (Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall, 2000) 163.


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