On my journey to becoming a screenwriter, I’m going to have to write loads of screenplays, and whilst I could potententially write a screen play without doing any research I think that in order to make as good as I possibly can, I need to do as much research as I possibly can. Here is what I have gathered about vigilantes so far, with a specific focus on vigilantes in the UK.
A search for the keyword vigilante-justice on IMDB reveals film titles such as Batman Begins and Spiderman, I mention those two specifically to begin with since they are not, by definition vigilantes. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a vigilante as: “ a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily” The keyword here is punish, and almost every definition I have seen mentions that vigilantes punish criminals. However there is a popular misconception that any superhero (who isn’t working with the police) is a vigilante when many superheroes, including Batman, Spider-man and Superman, refuse to punish or generally if they can, harm criminals, instead they capture them and hand them over to law enforcement. Regarding the UK their are several clauses within the law which could in theory be used to defend a superhero:
“Members of the public (as well as police officers) may take action, including reasonable force, to prevent a breach of the peace, which would not necessarily involve exercising the formal powers of arrest.” Seeing as all criminals superheroes arrest are committing acts which would breach the peace in a large way, and they are members of the public, they would fall very nicely within this category.
One of the conditions that apply if a member of the public wanted to arrest someone is that: “It is not reasonably practical for a constable to make the arrest”. In many cases superheroes go after criminals who have a lot of political power, and have to some extent an influence in the police. In this case the fact that the superhero operates outside of the system means that s/he can perform the arrest without causing negative repercussions on themselves.
In addition, in order to prosecute someone “The prosecution must adduce sufficient evidence to satisfy a jury beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was either: not acting to defend himself/herself or another; or not acting to defend property; or not acting to prevent a crime or to apprehend an offender; or if he was so acting, the force used was excessive.” I think the only point here which might be applicable to your traditional superhero is that the force used might be excessive.
So how does this all help? Why is any of it relevant?
Well as a screenwriter I am trying to create a lot o conflict, because if a few people decide to start a vigilante group and no one opposes it, where’s the story? And in order to create conflict the actions of the protagonist(s) must be questionable at the very least, there must be those who oppose, who think what they are doing is wrong, and there may be some who wish to prosecute them, the law enforcement may be after them. These are all just ideas at the moment but I think it’s worth keeping in mind that stories such as that of the man who threw the teenager of the train, created an overwhelming amount of public sympathy for the man who did the throwing, and at least initially within my story I don’t want everyone to be in the public to be symapathetic with the protagonists.
So in order to create conflict with law enforcement several things can be done (in my opinion), I will list them below:
- Use of weapons
- Use of excessive force, maybe killing some of the criminals
- Going after criminals who the law doesn’t consider criminals/isn’t pressing charges aginst/has declared innocent
Of course this all if the setting is the UK, which due to logistical reason it probably will.
So far this is all I have, more updates coming soon.