1969. Seven young activists are arrested and charged with inciting a demonstration against the Vietnam War which ended in violent scenes after the 1968 Democratic National Convention, which was held in the wake of the assassinations of both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Prior to the beginning of the trial, it appears the sentence has already been written. Seven scapegoats were arrested to send a message to anyone inciting ‘disturbances’, a word we are more than familiar with here in Catalonia, as this is exactly how the protests in favor of independence were defined. The seven were held up as an example of what would not be tolerated by the US regime at the time: to raise your voice. Theirs was, from beginning to end, a political trial. Punishment handed down by a judge who long before banging his gavel down, had come to a decision as to how things would pan out. These hippies weren’t going to be allowed to get away with it. Subsequently, they would become a symbol of freedom of assembly and expression in the United States, and throughout the world.
‘The Trial of The Chicago 7′, available on Netflix, might easily be mistaken as forming part of our current and immediate environment. In fact, any resemblance to reality is no mere coincidence. Without going any further, we’ve seen it all play out in the trial of the independence leaders. The ringleaders of the tumultuous protests (Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart) are imprisoned, and the people are left without leaders. Then, they are handed down harsh sentences lest anyone else might be considering a similar path, ignoring the most dangerous weapon of all: an uprising society. Those seven young people from Chicago in the 1960’s were fighting for us, for generations to come, so that we could continue to take to the streets in protest.
If anyone though they could halt a revolution overnight, they were wrong. Protests continued after the Americans’ trial. The outrage against the Vietnam War continued to resound in the streets, just as that of the Iraq War echoed years later. You only have to review last year, 2019 and early 2020, in which there have been more social unrest and protests than ever: pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, protests against police racism in the United States (Black Lives Matters), Belarus against Aleksandr Lukashenko’s electoral fraud; Peru, where the streets are ablaze with protests against a corrupt government. And a very long etcetera that shows how society cannot be silenced.
The director of ‘‘The Trial of The Chicago 7‘, Aaron Sorkin, creator of ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Steve Jobs’, invites us to continue fighting injustice. He does so alongside a biased and racist judge, brilliantly played by Frank Langella (‘Frost/Nixon, ‘Good Night and Good Luck’), and with a defense attorney played by an equally outstanding Mark Rylance (‘Ready Player One’, ‘Dunkirk’) who accepts the challenge of fighting the judicial ruse. Both actors shine among other bright lights in the storyline that features big names like Sacha Baron Cohen (‘Borat’, ‘The Dictator’), and adds a touch of humor to the proceedings; Eddie Redmayne (‘The Theory of Everything’, ‘The Danish Girl’), and symbol of good judgement; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (‘Origin’, ‘Looper’), the highly professional state prosecutor and regime defender.
Trial-based movies are most always addictive as we get caught up in the innate tensions of high-profile proceedings. We also tend to take sides and try walking in the shoes of those we consider to be ‘the good guys’. We empathize with them and detest a judge who displays distance and cruelty in the situation. There are moments of indignation, anger or pity for our “goodies”, moments in which it seems that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re happy for them, and then there’s always that decisive moment, when sentence is handed down. Here, the finale is the stuff of goose bumps; a rebellion against the system starring Eddie Redmayne. The judge asks him to behave, and to utter those magic words that might avert a prison sentence, once again ignoring the fact that a society on the march against injustice will never be silenced by a judge.