Art by Jennifer Woo
Orange County School of the Arts

Opinion: ‘Trial of the Chicago 7’ reveals parallels between 1968 and today

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” written by acclaimed screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, tells the true story of the 8 men put on trial for inciting violence during the 1968 Chicago riots that followed the assassinations of JFK, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Through carefully crafted production, the film blurs the lines between 1968 and 2020, rightfully so. 

The six main defendants, Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) face a politically motivated judge, who does everything in his power to strike down the protestors with the full power of the federal government. 

Sorkin gives us a deeper view into the 60s than the archetypes of hippies, weed and tie-dye that many younger generations have learned it to be.

A true ensemble of characters from a Boy Scout Troop Leader, a leader of the Black Panther Party, two Yippies and two college students gather in a courtroom to defend themselves in a “political trial.” Members from these groups unify behind the ending of the war, but also conflict ideologically, creating a unique dynamic. 

There is comfort in turning to the past to find parallels, and there is also despair in knowing that history repeats itself. As we enter the new year, we must remember that we are not suddenly free from the horrors of COVID-19 and police brutality that we witnessed in 2020. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” takes place 50 years ago, yet every single issue that the movie tackles is relevant today, in 2021. 

“This movie is not about 1968,” Sorkin said in an interview with Netflix, “this movie is about today.” 

Though the worst of our justice system unfolds in the film, the trophies of American democracy are highlighted as well.

William Kunstler, portrayed by Mark Rylance, asks, “how do you overthrow or dismember, as you say, your government peacefully” to which Abbie Hoffman replies, “In this country, we do it every four years.”

Do not be put off by the movie being a courtroom drama, it is much more thrilling than the genre suggests. Between adrenaline rushing flashbacks to riots and the events leading up to it, in addition to the pure comedy delivered by Baron Cohen, Strong and the rest of the star-studded cast, this movie is anything but boring. 

Footage from the riots was beautifully match cut into the scenes, reminding viewers of the reality behind the story. It can be easy to get caught up in the theatrical drama of Sorkin’s work, but it is equally important to remember why the story needs to be told.

“I think the institutions of our government are wonderful things but are right now populated with terrible people,” Hoffman said in the film.

There is truly something to be said about Sorkin’s ability to criticize America’s institutions while reinforcing hope that they can be reformed. 

One of the most important aspects of a historical film is that, as the name suggests, it’s rooted in history. While Sorkin certainly took some creative liberties regarding timeline and increased dramatization of events using a musical score, he did not dilute the horrors that occurred in this trialtir. It is terrifying that some of the events truly happened in real life. 

The film’s musical score, written by Daniel Pemberton, is a huge contributor to the effectiveness of the story.

Sorkin’s dialogue is often described as rhythmic and lyrical. Combined with Pemberton’s music, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a full symphony. From electric guitars and drums to somber violins, viewers cannot help but feel the energy seething from the screen.

The exceptional sound design also subconsciously pulls at viewers’ emotions. Some of the film’s most powerful moments took place in absolute silence in the courtroom, the silence that filled the voluminous courtroom with anticipation. 

The film was scheduled to be released in theaters in September but was instead released on Netflix in October, according to Deadline.

If you’ve already seen the film, watch it again. It is an important reminder to never lose sight of a brighter future for America. If you haven’t seen the film, absolutely watch it. 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is not about a court case, the 7 men convicted or even the criminal justice system at all. It’s about what happens when the courageous fight for those without a voice.

Despite centering around the controversial Vietnam War, people on all ends of the political spectrum can find inspiration and hope in this story.

As Americans continue to face the COVID pandemic, institutionalized racism and every injustice in between, we must remember, as repeated in the film, “the whole world is watching.”