The Trial of the Chicago 7, which is now available on Netflix, is generating Oscar buzz thanks to strong performances by Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden. The film chronicles the violent anti-war protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the subsequent trial of seven activists who were accused of inciting the riot.
Directed by Aaron Sorkin, who also wrote the screenplay, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a transparent parallel to current times when young leftists are taking to the streets once again to demand justice. Sorkin, an outspoken liberal, has poured his political views and soul into several earlier works such as NBC’s The West Wing, HBO’s Newsroom and The American President, which starred Michael Douglas as a Clintonesque president who falls in love with a DC lobbyist, played by Annette Bening. With Sorkin at the helm, there would be no doubt that The Trial of the Chicago 7 would make a strong political statement, and it does.
However, the movie could have taken a different turn — at least somewhat different — if it were not for an ill-timed writers strike 13 years ago.
It all started in 2006 when Steven Spielberg called Sorkin to his house to discuss his next project:
“He told me he wanted to make a movie about the riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention and the trial that followed,” Soirkin recently told Vanity Fair. “I left not knowing what the hell he was talking about.”
Spielberg asked Sorkin to begin working on a script, which he did. Meanwhile, the legendary director called Will Smith to clear his schedule to play Bobby Seale, a Black Panther, and one of the seven co-conspirators. (Seale is played in Sorkin’s film by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.)
“When Steve is ready he will send it,” Smith told Collider. I don’t know specifics, story, anything, but he told me the filming dates, so I can be free to do it. It’s not a 100 percent sure thing yet, but I’m confident.”
While Spielberg is also a supporter of liberal causes, his films are rarely regarded as political treatises. He tends to put story first although he’s not beyond making a statement. (Schindler’s List, Lincoln, Munich, The Post.), particularly in his later films. Still, it’s doubtful that The Trial of the Chicago 7 would have been the anti-establishment film that Sorkin’s movie is, albeit with both operating from the latter’s script.
And with Will Smith attached as Seale, it’s likely that the the Hoffman and Rubin roles would not have been the standouts.
But we will never know because Spielberg’s involvement as director ended in 2007 when the 100-day long writers strike occurred, throwing everyone’s Hollywood schedule to the wind. Several other big-name directors such as Paul Greengrass (United 93) flirted with the script, but it basically sat around until two years when Spielberg encouraged Sorkin to direct, according to Vanity Fair.
Fueled by the escalating political activism in the country, Sorkin quickly embraced the idea, and the rest is Hollywood history.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 can be seen now on Netflix.