The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a 2020 American historical legal drama film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. The film follows the Chicago Seven, a group of anti–Vietnam War protesters charged with conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It features an ensemble cast including Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Jeremy Strong, and Ben Shenkman.
Sorkin originally wrote the screenplay in 2007, with the intent of Steven Spielberg directing the film with mostly unknown actors. After the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike and budget concerns forced Spielberg to drop out as director, Sorkin was announced as director in October 2018, and much of the cast joined the same month Filming took place in the fall of 2019 in Chicago and around New Jersey.
Originally planned for a theatrical release by Paramount Pictures, the distribution rights to the film were sold to Netflix due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was released in select theaters on September 25, 2020, and began streaming digitally on Netflix on October 16. The film received positive reviews from critics, who praised the performances, Sorkin's screenplay, and the modern parallels to the 1960s. The film earned six nominations at the 93rd Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Baron Cohen. It also received five nominations at the 78th Golden Globe Awards (winning for Best Screenplay), three at the 27th Screen Actors Guild Awards (winning Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture), and three at the 74th British Academy Film Awards.
In August 1968, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, John Froines, and Bobby Seale make preparations to protest the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Five months later, they are arrested and charged with trying to incite a riot. John N. Mitchell, the Attorney General, appoints Tom Foran and Richard Schultz as the prosecutors, while all the defendants except Seale are represented by William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass.
Judge Julius Hoffman shows significant prejudice for the prosecution. Seale's attorney, Charles Garry, cannot attend due to illness, leading Judge Hoffman to insist that Kunstler represent him. This insistence is rejected repeatedly by both Kunstler and Seale. Seale receives support from Fred Hampton which Judge Hoffman assumes is legal help. Abbie Hoffman openly antagonizes the court. Judge Hoffman begins removing jurors who are suspected of sympathizing with the defendants due to reported threats from the Black Panther Party and charges the defendants and their attorneys with multiple counts of contempt of court.
Numerous undercover local police officers and FBI agents testify. At the time of the convention, Hayden noticed two police officers tailing Davis and attempted to let the air out of their tire, but was caught and later arrested. Abbie and others led a protest to the police station where Hayden was detained but turned around upon seeing the police blockade outside. When trying to return to the park, police had taken control of the hill with orders to disperse the crowd. A riot ensued, and the protestors clashed with police in an attempt to claim the hill. Kunstler makes a point that none of the defendants instigated the riot.
Days later, the defendants learn that Fred Hampton was killed during a police raid. In retaliation for Seale continuing to speak up for his constitutional rights, Judge Hoffman has him taken to another room, beaten, and returned gagged and chained. The prosecution and defense object to the judge's order, and Judge Hoffman declares Seale's case a mistrial.
The defense decides to put Ramsey Clark, Attorney General during the riots, on the stand. Judge Hoffman refuses to let him testify in front of the jury because he had declined to initiate prosecutions after the riots because of evidence that the Chicago Police Department instigated them. Dellinger punches a bailiff, resulting in his arrest.
Kunstler presents a tape implicating Hayden to the defendants and preps Hayden for cross-examination. On the night of the riot, Davis tried to pacify officers trying to arrest someone climbing a flagpole. After the police clubbed Davis's head, an enraged Hayden exclaimed, "If blood is going to flow, then let it flow all over the city!". The defendants were cornered by police and beaten. Abbie deduces that Hayden had misspoken, claiming the statement would have started with, "If our blood is going to flow... ." Realizing that mistake would be exploitable with himself on the stand, Hayden asks Abbie to testify.
In his testimony, Abbie reinforces that Hayden was misconstrued and states his disdain for the U.S. government's leadership. At the end of the trial, despite Judge Hoffman's instructions and objections, Hayden uses his closing remarks to name the 4,752 soldiers who were killed in the Vietnam War since the trial began. This act prompts many in the court to stand and cheer.