In 1969, no other trial garnered more coverage in local newspapers than that of the infamous “Chicago Seven.” Every twist and turn in the courtroom guaranteed front-page story. Now, it’s getting the big-screen treatment.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” the latest Netflix film by Aaron Sorkin, hits theaters Sept. 24 for a limited run before landing on the streaming service on Oct. 16.
The film, starring Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Frank Langella, dramatizes the events of the trial — but the original, real-time reporting from the Chicago Daily News and Chicago Sun-Times captured all of the emotions in black and white as the story unfolded.
The trial centered around the eight (later seven) defendants — Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Bobby Seale, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner— who were accused of conspiring to incite a riot and crossing state lines to do so during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
During the five nights of the convention, protests turned violent when demonstrators, including the defendants, clashed with Chicago police, who used billy clubs and tear gas to try enforce the city’s curfew. People protested for a number of reasons, but most came to demonstrate opposition to the Vietnam War, which at the time was in its 13th year.
The trial began on Sept. 24, 1969 and concluded on Feb. 18, 1970. Throughout the trial, U.S. District Judge Julius Hoffman showed contempt for the defendants, remarking on Abbie Hoffman’s (no relation) long hair and denying defense motions, while allowing nearly all motions from the prosecutors. The defendants, however, did not sit idly by. They stirred up drama themselves, dressing in wigs, blowing kisses at the crowd and calling Judge Hoffman a “fascist dog” and “racist” in the press.
All seven were found guilty of contempt of court, and five were found guilty of crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot. None were found guilty of the conspiracy charges. All received prison sentences for contempt of court, including one of the defendants’ lawyers, and five also received a $5,000 fine. Bobby Seale, the Black Panther chairman who was given his own trial, was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to four years in prison.
In 1972, the Chicago Seven won appeals for their contempt and criminal charges. Seale was the only one who did not win an appeal for his contempt of court charge.