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The Trial of the Chicago 7

Don’t forget that it’s 8

You know how people used to say “it’s so dumb that anyone would cheat on Taylor Swift anymore. They should know better, she’s going to write a really catchy song to make everyone hate them.” If the Netflix movie, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” has taught me anything, it’s that the government should really stop beating up people who are fighting for equal rights. Because those passionate citizens, those eloquent artists, those dope smoking hippies who have been expanding their minds with psychedelics while YOU were the one actually drinking the kool-aid – they’re great at making art that calls people to action.

When I put on the trailer for this movie I cried. Chanting through the speakers, underneath the video, was “the whole world is watching.” It rang through the 1960s and into the halls of 2020 with a bell so clear it was impossible to miss. If there is anything we know to be true right now, it’s that through social media the entire world is watching. You cannot stalk and kill a man on his run, beat an unarmed man, call the cops on a well meaning stranger without being broadcast to the world. The whole world is watching.

Even though this movie broke from my 90 minute movie perfection, the trailer promised it would be worth my while and it did not disappoint. If I’m going to watch a movie for two hours, I want a lengthy story. There is nothing more I hate than a movie that makes you think “what the f* is happening?” for 90 minutes before any conclusion comes. (Sidebar: I love a good twist that puts a movie on its head. To spend the majority of the movie leaving the audience confused is what I’m calling out here.) But I digress.

Don’t forget that it was 8.

The movie starts quickly, with me getting an introduction to the main characters while they participate in the climbing action. The exposition is almost indistinguishable as we meet impassioned students, conscientious objectors, and young activists planning to march in Chicago to end the Vietnam War. Everyone has the same goal – to get their signs in front of the cameras at the Democratic National Convention. When you put yourself in their shoes, a very short leap due to the excellent production of this movie, you realize that the only way for a silenced to have a voice is to hold a sign in front of a camera.

There’s an unexpected cut here. The exposition pauses before it even really began, all the sudden there are eight men in front of a judge for what the papers are calling “The Trial of the Chicago 7”.

But don’t forget that there were 8. There’s a black man on trial with these white hippies and men of privilege. All of the white men were interconnected, they all organized different groups that came out for protest. The black man, Bobby Seale, wasn’t connected with any of them in any way but he was on trial with all of them. As the audience was shown in an earlier scene, the Attorney General of the United States wanted to make a point with this trial and they were arresting the leader of any protesting party that was in Chicago at the time of the 1968 riot. Since Bobby was not connected to the other men he had a separate lawyer who was unavailable at the time of trial. Despite repeated requests to delay his trial until he could have council were ignored by a judge that I hope was a dramatization of the real judge.

Does anyone else wonder if they go strictly by the court records when they do the script for courtroom scenes? Could the judge really have said those things, denied those motions, and ordered the brutality that he did in the movie? I just spent the last hour in an internet rabbit hole and it turns out that yeah, he did. (Slate has an excellent article where they compare and contrast the movie to real life based on their studies of the court transcript. I highly recommend giving it a read – here) I also found a link to a court artist’s rendering of Bobby Seale bound and gagged in court as well as read his account of the gagging, and discovered to my horror that the graphic scene of him being beaten and gagged so deeply it seems like he can’t breathe was actually a played down version of what he really endured. I’m not going to include the picture because I believe that while awareness is important, it’s not my place as a white woman to share trauma porn in regards to black lives.

That scene, and an earlier one that depicted the Chicago Riot, were two moments where I had to pause the movie and take a step away. Just watching the movie rendition of police tear gassing and beating unarmed humans made me start sobbing. Quietly at first, trying to pretend that it wasn’t happening. But when I realized I couldn’t hide it I wept openly for the people who were hurt. Aaron Sorkin created an added level of trigger warnings as he included some white supremacists following a female protester carrying a flag and using the riot as an excuse to teach her a lesson in the only way that weak men like that can try to assert dominance – gang rape.

The whole scene reaffirmed for me that nothing good comes of violence. But what do you do when you are met with violence? Is it not human to react? To protect yourself? What if part of the “mob mentality” that we project on protest crowds is frustration that has boiled to the surface and can no longer be suppressed? Who reading this can say that they have never succumbed to anger? The Chicago 7 were variously motivated but all acutely aware of the fact that every second that passed, more men were dying overseas.

Being so singularly focused can be dangerous, we all know this. When we get tunnel vision we exclude a lot of other factors that are important to a healthy society. But what do you do when everyone else is so singularly focused that they ignore the things that matter to you, like equal rights and soldiers dying by the hundreds in a pointless war? If everyone seems to be looking everywhere but at the injustice it can start to feel like your duty is to be singularly focused until enough people are looking in your direction.

This movie cemented that nothing goes well when politics gets involved with justice. This country was founded on a system of checks and balances that no longer works. Judges and sheriffs are elected and more focused on maintaining their power that comes from the status quo than they are about upholding what is right and what is wrong. We have become a society that can’t clearly see the difference anymore. If violence is never the answer then why does it happen? Why do peaceful protests erupt into violence?

This movie gave us that answer.

But never forget – there were 8.

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