Suffragette Cinema

a feminist look at films and the media surrounding them


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There’s something Serial-ly wrong here

Originally, this blog was started nearly a year ago for a class assignment at my University. Despite having stopped blogging, this website is often on my mind, and I am going to try and pick up writing once again. Because it is January 2nd, I’m going to even go so far as pledging to try and update it once a month as my New Year’s Resolution!

However, I will most likely be shifting to additionally discuss my thoughts on various forms of media; beginning with this article, on the podcast series that recently ended on December 17th,  Serial.

Serial is a podcast spinoff from This American Life. It first was released in October, 2014 and continued as a 12- episode weekly podcast. Serial is narrated by Sarah Koenig and follows her investigation on a murder case in 1999. Hae Min Lee, a senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland, on January 13, 1999 was reported missing, her body, a month later, found in a city park. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed was arrested and convicted of first- degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

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Koenig conducted interviews, looked into records, contacted experts, and read through hundreds of papers   regarding this case, trying to make sense of the events that occurred and investigating to see whether or not Syed, who to this day claims he was not responsible for Lee’s death, is truly guilty or innocent.

If you have some time to spare, I really recommend listening- I started the series yesterday and finished early today- it can be downloaded for free on iTunes or listened to here.

Racist Undertones

In the series tenth episode, “The Best Defense is a Good Defense,” Koenig spends a great deal of time talking about how racism showed up within the investigation and prosecution. (The transcription of this episode can be found here.)

Riddled into Syed’s bail hearing are multiple sentiments and statements that are directly related to his being of Pakistan decent and Muslim.

For instance, many of the jurors seem to have extreme racial biases, stating “I’m not sure how the culture is over there, what they’re taught about women. He just wanted power over her, and she wouldn’t give it.” Another said, “In the Arabic culture, men rule, not women. I remember hearing that.”

Even the prosecutor, Vicki Walsh, makes claims comparing Syed’s court case as being “frighteningly similar” to Samuel Sheinbein’s, a man who, according to Koenig, “was accused of brutally killing another Maryland teenager in 1997 and then absconded to Israel.” In reality, the only similarity between Syed and Sheinbein’s cases is that they are both men of Pakistani heritage convicted of murder. The cases themselves are inherently different- Walsh’s claims are thus, blatantly about race.

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Connections

I do not believe that this episode of Serial focused on the racial aspects of Syed’s trial accidentally. Coinciding with the episodes release were the highly public deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, New York.

I believe that all of these cases, the way that all three of these men of color have been treated by the police force or court system are blatant examples of racism in this country. While I believe that Koenig would have included a piece on Syed’s treatment because of his race, I think that she did so so extensively, spending nearly half of the 44 minute podcast on the racism Syed experienced, due to the recent events that have gained publicity.

I want to be clear here and say that I do not know whether or not Adnan Syed is guilty or not, and am not writing this post to suggest he is. What I am saying and what Koenig discusses in her podcast, is that the way in which Adnan was discussed by both the jurors and the prosecution was in a racialized one with which has the potential to create bias.

Here are few quick facts from “11 Facts About Racial Discrimination” on DoSomething.org, a website dedicated to creating social change.

  1. African-Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population and 14% of the monthly drug users, but 37% of the people arrested for drug-related offenses in America.
  2. Studies show that police are more likely to pull over and frisk blacks or Latinos than whites. In New York City, 80% of the stops made were blacks and Latinos, and 85% of those people were frisked, compared to a mere 8% of the white people stopped.
  3. After being arrested, African-Americans are 33% more likely than whites to be detained while facing a felony trial in New York.
  4. In 2010, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that African Americans receive 10% longer sentences than whites through the federal system for the same crimes.
  5. A survey in 2011 revealed that 52% of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes.
  6. In 2012, 51% of Americans expressed anti-black sentiments in a poll; a 3% increase from 2008.

Ultimately, the institutional system that is currently set up in the United States is extremely flawed. It is set up to be racially biased, and the cases of Adnan Syed, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner are only three of thousands that occur on a daily basis on an institutional and individual level.

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