‘The Trial Of The Chicago 7’ Sheds Light On America’s History Of Protest

"The script didn’t change to mirror the times, the times changed to mirror the script," director Aaron Sorkin says of the 2020 parallels.

Aaron Sorkin is known for his political dramas. Between The West Wing, The Newsroom, and Charlie Wilson’s War — Sorkin’s works have come to define our standards for political-centric entertainment. And his latest film, Netflix’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, is no exception.

In 1968, the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago. At the time, the country was ripe with tension — from the Civil Rights Movement to the anti-Vietnam War protests — and people were taking to the streets. The Trial of the Chicago 7 chronicles this time period, honing in one particular protest that grew into a riot and ultimately resulted in a violent clash with police. As Esquire writes of the protest, "The riots themselves started [in August], when several thousand protestors tried to march to the International Amphitheatre, where the Democratic National Congress was being held. The summer of 1968 had been the bloodiest yet in Vietnam; more than 1,000 American soldiers were dying each month."

In the end, a federal grand jury indicted eight demonstrators and eight police officers in response to the violence. The demonstrators were Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), John Froines (Danny Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). The cast also includes Joseph Gordon Levitt as prosecutor Richard Schultz, Michael Keaton as Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and Mark Rylance as defender Willam Kunstler.

Given our country’s current political climate, the film couldn’t be more timely — despite the fact that the project began over a decade ago. As Sorkin details in the film’s press notes, the idea for The Trial Of The Chicago 7 came out of a meeting with Steven Spielberg in 2007. "Steven told me he really wanted to make a movie about this crazy conspiracy trial that happened in Chicago in 1969, and I said, ‘Wow, I’ve wanted to write a movie about this crazy conspiracy trial that happened in Chicago in 1969 for a long time. Count me in,’" Sorkin recalled. "As soon as I got in my car I called my father, and said, ‘Dad, was there a crazy conspiracy trial that happened in Chicago in 1969?’ I didn’t know anything about it.’"

Sorkin ultimately ended up making the film without Spielberg, and the result is an incredibly prescient portrait of our country’s history of protesting. "The script didn’t change to mirror the times, the times changed to mirror the script," Sorkin also shared in the press notes. "Watching the footage every night of protestors clashing with police, it looks exactly like 1968. Even the intramural struggle between the more moderate and more progressive wings of the Democratic Party seem to mirror the friction."

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