Netflix’s 2022 TV series, Lincoln’s lawyermakes a positive change from Michael Connelly’s 2007 book, The Brass Verdict, shifting Mickey’s musical tastes from rap to jazz. Based on the second novel in the popular book series, Lincoln’s lawyer follows criminal defense attorney Michael “Mickey” Haller Jr. (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) as he revives his legal career while recovering from a painkiller addiction after a recent surfing accident. Before Mickey can fully recover, he must deal with the biggest case of his career, a high-profile double murder case.
Mickey is Mexican-American of Irish ancestry in the book and TV series, though Netflix Lincoln’s lawyer watch focuses more on his Latino heritage than the book, which emphasizes his Irish-American roots. Although Mickey comes from a very different background than his clients in the books, who are mostly young male drug dealers, he sympathizes with them and listens to rap music as a way to understand their lives. In the TV series, Mickey’s relationship with his father is his source of new knowledge and insight rather than rap music. Instead, it’s jazz music he listens to in his car working on cases.
The swap in Mickey’s musical genre preferences is a positive book to filter character change in Lincoln’s lawyer which eliminates racist undertones in the protagonist’s worldview and actions. In the book, Mickey views the world through a privileged, white, American male lens reminiscent of the era. While on the surface his interest in rap music may seem compassionate, it actually reflects the otherness of non-European peoples and cultures that was once common practice in the field of anthropology. It also nods to the problematic use of rap lyrics as evidence against black and Latino rappers and musicians in the courtroom, a practice that is still common.
Anthropology is rooted in colonialism. Historically, the discipline has focused on the study of the primitive “other”, placing whites, primarily males of European descent, as the normative self. Discipline practices have positioned Indigenous communities and people of color around the world as artifacts and sources of data rather than collaborators of knowledge with individual sovereignty. In Connelly’s books, and also alluded to in Matthew McConaughey’s 2011 film, Mickey uses rap music as an anthropological tool to understand the “other” he seeks to help, reflecting the racist roots of anthropology.
Also, there is a history of lawyers submitting rap lyrics as proof of intent and motive by presenting the lyrics as literal confessions and autobiographies. By denying the musicians’ use of artistic license in creating these lyrics, prosecutors say rapping is not art. This racist outlook dehumanizes blacks and Latinos, resulting in unfair court decisions and sentencing. As Connelly flips this narrative through Mickey using rap music in Lincoln’s lawyer books to defend blacks and Latinos rather than prosecute them, it still features racist undertones, including the white savior trope, which are eliminated in the Netflix adaptation.
In Lincoln’s lawyer TV series, Mickey listens to jazz because it connects him to his father and helps him focus. Rather than using jazz as an anthropological tool, Mickey values jazz as an art form, reflecting a sincere relationship with the genre that is not rooted in racism. In doing so, Netflix Lincoln’s lawyer changes the story’s main protagonist for the better and presents a more progressive and modern take on Michael Connelley’s popular legal thriller.
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