The new Green Hornet movie came out this weekend, and it’s… just okay? Something like that. Again, not reviewing this as a film critic as much as a legal critic, and it’s surprising how much this movie gets both right and wrong, sometimes on the very same issue. This time we’re going to focus mostly on two legal issues which explicitly show up in the film: sexual harassment in the workplace and a peculiar little wrinkle related to self-defense.
As always, spoilers follow.
I. Sexual Harassment
Brit Reid is an ass. When Lenore comes into his office the very first thing he does could easily form the basis of a viable sexual harassment lawsuit. Sexual harassment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as being prohibited under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (see Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 447 U.S. 57). Commenting on a prospective employee’s sexual attractiveness is a surefire way of getting your butt sued off. The movie eventually figures this out, but Lenore only raises the issue of sexual harassment after he has already fired her, something else for which she could sue. So whatever points the movie gets for raising the issue it loses for raising it so late. If you’re going to let your boss harass you when he hires you, while you’re working for him, and fire you on the basis of your gender, it seems a little late to raise the issue when he asks you to come back. The movie is set in the present day; this ain’t Mad Men. You can’t do stuff like that anymore.
At one point, basically the duo’s first real attempt at being the Green Hornet and Kato, the two drive Black Beauty to a drug corner and proceed to beat the crap out of the dealers. Fair enough. But things get a little out of hand, and Kato has to shoot one of the criminals to stop him from shooting Brit. The movie seems to pass this off as okay, either because the bad guys are, well, bad guys, but implicitly it seems that the idea is that because it was in self-defense, it’s legally okay too. The movie never seems to think that the two have committed any actual crimes (other than vandalism, which when it’s against your own property hardly counts).
But this is too simple an analysis. Self-defense is, if made out properly, a complete defense to a charge of homicide. But there are a couple of restrictions here. First, there’s the issue of proportional response. If someone punches you, employing a deadly weapon–guns and knives are the traditional ones here–may be viewed as disproportionate, which would defeat the defense. Even worse, self-defense cannot be raised if you’re the one who started the fight. This isn’t just limited to throwing the first punch either. “Fighting words” never justify an attack, but if the prosecution can prove that a defendant pleading self-defense deliberately provoked his assailant, it’s going to get a guilty verdict. So pissing off a bunch of drug dealers in order to get them to attack you so you can kill them? Yeah, that’s homicide.
III. Final word
The movie as a whole is, well, kind of a mess, and that isn’t terribly surprising given the mess it makes of the law. Then again, the final cup-check is pretty damn funny…