Bobby Seale shouldn’t even have been there.
How the Black Panther co-founder and activist ended up on trial alongside the Vietnam War-protesting “Chicago 7” (originally “Chicago 8”) in the wake of the 1968 Democratic National Convention remains one of the most egregious acts in the history of the U.S. federal court. The government had little to no evidence Seale played a role in plotting the convention’s protest activity, and his involvement in the 1969 case reeked of the same corruption that led to the assassination of fellow party leader Fred Hampton as Seale and company were on trial.
What happened to him during the courtroom proceedings — as depicted in Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-nominated drama The Trial of the Chicago 7, with Yahya-Abdul Mateen II playing Seale — is nothing short of abhorrent. After repeatedly sparring with Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) and vociferously denouncing the murder of Hampton, the understandably outraged Seale is ordered to be bounded and gagged. In an American court. In 1969.
It makes for the most shocking, most upsetting sequence in Chicago 7, which Sorkin and cast discuss in the exclusive Anatomy of a Scene featurette (watch exclusively above).
“The way that Bobby Seale was treated in this trial is such stark evidence of how unequal things were,” said co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
“I hope people start saying, ‘Gee, we seem to have gone backwards, we won’t do that again,’” said Sorkin, whose film was released in September, just as a summer marked by protests over the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black victims came to a close. “The fact that when you protest your government, that doesn’t mean you’re anti-American. Quite the opposite.”
In a September interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Abdul-Mateen (Watchmen, Aquaman) talked about how challenging the scene was for him to film.
“It was an emotional difficulty,” he said. “To allow myself to be put in that situation, it’s a very unnatural thing to do, to allow oneself to be put in that situation as a human being.
“But I also had to think about Bobby and the fact that he did not willingly put himself into that situation, that this was something that was done to him. So while I had to privilege of saying yes or no or that’s too much or maybe a little bit more, Bobby did not have that privilege. And what he was fighting for was for his own human dignity and the decency to be recognized as a human and for his constitutional rights as an American to be acknowledged.”
The Trial of the Chicago 7, which earned six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, is currently streaming on Netflix.
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