Aaron Sorkin's 'The Trial of the Chicago 7' Revisits Another Disastrous Moment in American History

Gabrielle Bruney
·3 mins read
Photo credit: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX © 2020
Photo credit: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX © 2020

From Esquire

Writer-director Aaron Sorkin made a new movie about protests during a history-making election year that found police tear-gassing and beating demonstrators, while their organizers were were federally prosecuted. No, this isn't a quickly-made quarantine project inspired by the events of this summer—Sorkin's been working for years on telling the true story of the Chicago Seven, anti-war organizers who were charged with conspiracy after protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention ended in a violent police riot. The upcoming Netflix movie has a stacked cast—Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Aquaman's Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are among its stars—and tells an uncannily timely story. Here's everything you need to know.

Who are the Chicago Seven?

The 1968 Democratic National Convention was held at Chicago's International Amphitheater, and became a focal point for days of anti-Vietnam War organizing. The country was already reeling from tragedy: both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated in the months before, and a flu pandemic that would go onto kill millions globally had just begun (as if this story needed any more contemporary parallels.) Famous moments from the protests included members of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin's anti-war counterculture group the Youth Internal Party satirically nominating a pig for president, while workshops on evading the draft and rolling joints were also held. Notable attendees included poet Allen Ginsberg, and folk singer Phil Ochs—he's the one who got the Yippies' their pig.

Chicago's then-mayor Richard Daley gathered a force of 12,000 police, 6,000 National Guardsman, and 7,000 more troops from the Army, Navy, FBI, and CIA to greet the protestors. Police gassed protestors and beat them with clubs, with the violence all aired on national television. The chaos even spread inside the convention hall, where Dan Rather was punched by a security guard.

Hubert Humphrey received the party's nomination, but the violence at the convention damaged the Democrats' prospects. Richard Nixon eventually won the close race, and once in office, his administration brought charges against protest leaders Hoffman, Rubin, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, and Lee Weiner. (Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, originally the eighth defendant, was eventually tried separately.) Sorkin's film is a courtroom drama about the resulting trial, which eventually found some of the Chicago Seven convicted for inciting a riot, through the ruling was later reversed.

Who's starring in the movie?

Sorkin first began working on a Chicago Seven screenplay in 2004, after he was hired by producer Steven Spielberg. But work on the film was interrupted by the 2007 writers strike, which is why it's only making its way to our screens in 2020.

The cast is stacked—Watchmen star Abdul-Mateen plays Seale, while Baron Cohen plays Hoffman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays prosecutor Richard Schultz and Michael Keaton is onboard as LBJ-era attorney general Ramsey Clark. Also among the cast is Frank Langella, Eddie Redmayne, William Hurt, and Succession's Jeremy Strong. (And if it feels a little weird to see 48-year-old Baron Cohen as Hoffman, who was 33 at the time of the trial, that's because Baron Cohen was originally attached to the project all those years ago when Spielberg and Sorkin first started on it.)

When does the movie debut?

Like so many other films, The Trial of the Chicago 7 was originally intended to be seen in theaters. But, due to the ongoing pandemic, the film was moved to Netflix, where it will debut on October 16th.

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