“The whole world is watching,” we hear chanted repeatedly in the first The Trial of the Chicago 7 trailer. After riots, which may have begun due to the excessive force by the police, overtook the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the federal government tried to charge a group of counterculture activists with conspiracy in one of the most infamous trials in American history. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Molly’s Game), and featuring an all-star cast headlined by Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the Netflix film merits global consideration. Subscribers will have access to the film starting on Oct. 16
The Trial of the Chicago 7 was originally going to be released by Paramount Pictures, but the studio sold the distribution rights to Netflix due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trial of The Chicago 7 was initially set to be released in September, but the deal between Paramount and Netflix pushed it back a few weeks. The goal was apparently always to have it in theaters before the 2020 presidential election.
Cohen stars as Abbie Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne plays Tom Hayden, Gordon-Levitt is Richard H. Shultz, William Hurt takes on the role of John N. Mitchell, Rylance is famed attorney William Kunstler, Abdul-Mateen portrays Bobby Seale, Jeremy Strong is Jerry Rubin, Michael Keaton plays Ramsey Clark, and Frank Langella is Julius Hoffman. The cast also includes John Carroll Lynch, Ben Shenkman, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Danny Flaherty.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 chronicles how the Vietnam War protests outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, intended to be peaceful, turned into a violent clash with police and the National Guard. It follows Brett Morgan’s 2007 documentary Chicago 10: Speak Your Peace, and Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8, the docudrama Jeremy Kagan made in 1987.
Eight people were charged with violating the Rap Brown law: Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman of the Youth International Party AKA the Yippies); David Dellinger of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE); Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden of MOBE and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and Bobby Seale, who co-founded the Black Panther Party with Huey P. Newton. Seale requested a separate trial and called Judge Julius Hoffman a racist for denying it. The judge responded by having Seale bound and gagged in court before separating his trial. Seale was sentenced to 48 months in prison.
The remaining defendants were represented by William Kunstler. The legendary defense attorney was himself sentenced to four years for calling Hoffman’s court a “medieval torture chamber.” Five of the Chicago Seven were convicted of lesser charges. The convictions and contempt charges against the Chicago Seven were overturned on appeal in 1970.
Meanwhile a U.S. commission launched by the mainstream authority of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson concluded the violence escalated because of havoc instigated by local police officers, deeming the events “a police riot.”
The Trial of The Chicago 7 has been in development for a long time, Sorkin initially wrote the screenplay in 2007 with hopes Steven Spielberg to direct. The director dropped out because of the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike. The Trial of the Chicago 7 was nearly revived by DreamWorks in 2013 with Paul Greengrass set to direct. Ben Stiller also considered directing the film.
Sorkin made his directorial debut with Molly’s Game in 2017, and his screenplay was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. He won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for director David Fincher’s The Social Network. Sorkin announced he would direct in 2018. The attempt was initially shut down two months before its February 2019 start date.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 premieres Oct. 16 on Netflix.