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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Explained: Why Netflix film ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ is significant

'The Trial of the Chicago 7' puts the spotlight on police brutality and racial injustice, which are among the riding themes in the ongoing US election campaigns.

Written by Surbhi Gupta , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: October 28, 2020 8:13:15 am
The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Chicago Seven, Chicago Seven movie review, Who are the Chicago Seven, Where are the Chicago Seven now, Indian ExpressThis image released by Netflix shows Eddie Redmayne in a scene from "The Trial of the Chicago 7." (Niko Tavernise/Netflix via AP)

A new film, a historical legal drama, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin has become the talk of the town, especially with the US elections round the corner.

Featuring an ensemble cast that includes Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, among others, The Trial of the Chicago 7 puts the spotlight on the Chicago Seven, a group of anti–Vietnam War protesters, who were charged with conspiracy of inciting riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

Who are the Chicago Seven?

The Chicago Seven were seven defendants who were accused of conspiring to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. All were protesting against the country’s participation in the Vietnam War. They were collectively called the “New Left”, which included Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, co-founders of the Youth International Party; David Dellinger and Rennie Davis, who were part of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE); Tom Hayden, co-founder of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); John Froines, and Lee Weiner, who were part of the demonstrations.

What was the Vietnam War about?

A regional conflict that got intensified by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It began after the government of North Vietnam defeated the French colonial administration in 1954, and wanted the entire country under a single communist regime, modeled after Soviet Union and China. However, the South Vietnamese government wanted to be aligned with the West. Hence, the two sides pitted against each other, with the United States increasingly sending in troops. The number of personnel increased dramatically under the presidency of Lyndon B Johnson — from about 16,000 advisors in non-combat roles in 1963 to 5,25,000 in 1967, many in combat roles. More than three million people, including over 58,000 Americans, died in the Vietnam War, what is known as the American War in Vietnam.

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The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Chicago Seven, Chicago Seven movie review, Who are the Chicago Seven, Where are the Chicago Seven now, Indian Express The Trial of the Chicago 7 started streaming on Netflix on October 16. (Photo: Netflix)

What were the anti-war protests in the US about?

An era known for its political counter culture, student movements that started as part of the Civil Rights Movement, grew to demand free speech on college campuses, increased in scale as US involvement in the Vietnam war became the focal point of the protests. News coverage of the war, which included graphic visual testimonies, also contributed in turning the public opinion against the war. What first began among peace activists and leftist intellectuals on college campuses gained national prominence in 1965 after the US began bombing North Vietnam in earnest. With more young American men being enlisted, opposition against the ‘draft’ system grew manifold as it mainly drew men from minorities and lower and middle class whites, drawing the ire of students and blue-collar workers. This year had been of violence, political turbulence, and civil unrest, with riots taking place in more than 100 cities, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

What happened in Chicago during the protests?

Several youth groups had planned to protest outside the Democratic National Convention, held in Chicago in late August, to select the party’s candidates for the 1968 presidential election. Different groups had organised rallies, demonstrations and marches close to the convention site. Although Chicago’s Mayor Richard J Daley had refused permits to most demonstrators, and heavily deployed the streets with 12,000 police officers, 5,600 members of the Illinois National Guard and 5,000 Army soldiers. Eventually, the police and military forces violently clashed with the protesters, resulting in hundreds of injuries and 668 arrests during the four-day convention. While the crowd pelted the police with food, rocks, and chunks of concrete, and the police fired tear gas and chased the demonstrators, beating them with clubs and rifle butts.

READ | 50 years on, The Trial of Chicago 7 feels all about today

The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Chicago Seven, Chicago Seven movie review, Who are the Chicago Seven, Where are the Chicago Seven now, Indian Express The Chicago 7 were protesting against the country’s participation in the Vietnam War. (Photo: Netflix)

Did the group have an eighth member?

Initially, the group was called Chicago Eight as it included Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. Seale was visiting the city to give a speech replacing activist Elridge Cleaver. However, shortly after the trial began without his lawyer, Seale loudly protested and attempted to examine his own witnesses. It was then Judge Hoffman got Seale bound and gagged at the defendant’s table — a moment that has been repeatedly recorded and remembered in pop culture and protest art. Hoffman later ordered Seale to be severed from the case, but charged him under several counts of contempt of court.📣 Click to follow Express Explained on Telegram

The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Chicago Seven, Chicago Seven movie review, Who are the Chicago Seven, Where are the Chicago Seven now, Indian Express

What is the Rap Brown law, under which the group was charged?

The Rap Brown law, or the Anti-Riot Act, tagged onto the Civil Rights Bill, which made it a federal crime to cross state lines (also through mail, use of the Internet, or phone calls) in order to riot or to conspire to use interstate commerce to incite rioting. It was not enforced as such in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement. However, it has made headlines recently during Black Lives Matter protests. Attorney General William Barr had cited the Act while speaking about those who were protesting.

Why is the film significant with November 3 round the corner?

The Aaron Sorkin-directed film puts the spotlight on police brutality and racial injustice, which are among the riding themes in the ongoing US election campaigns, as mass protests against these two issues have gripped the nation since George Floyd’s death earlier this year. Floyd had died while in custody of Derek Chauvin, a police officer, after the latter knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street.

Why are people also talking about Mangrove Nine?

The Mangrove Nine can be called the British counterpart of the Chicago Seven. Filmmaker Steve McQueen has revived the landmark case in black British history in the court-room drama Mangrove. Set between 1968 and 1970, it unfolds in and around a newly opened Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill whose Black owners and patrons face sustained harassment from police. Eventually, the Mangrove Nine, a group of British black activists, were tried for inciting a riot at a protest, and their trial lasted 55 days. To be released as part of Small Axe, an upcoming British-American anthology film series, created and directed by McQueen, it will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on November 20.

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