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Topics in History: History through Film

Topics in History: History through Film

A Southport student review of the 2020 movie The Trial of the Chicago 7

Topics is a course at Southport High School taught by Kevin Sanders that analyzes major events from United States and world history through Hollywood films that attempt to portray those events. Students investigate historical documents and other sources to determine if a film is historically accurate.

The goal is for students to develop deeper understandings of the historical discipline while generating questions about the way the world is around them, along with watching classical films that have graced American and international screens.

Student: Yahayra Prado

Film Reviewed: The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the story of eight anti-Vietnam War defendants and their followers going to Chicago to share their ideas of the Vietnam War but consequently ended up being tear-gassed and beaten by the police for being at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The trial had eight defendants which consisted of seven white men and one Black man, all accused of crossing state lines with the intention of inciting riots. Bobby Seale, the only Black man, demanded to represent himself and a solo trial to the point where the judge ordered they bound and gag him for interrupting the court’s time. In the capture of the Chicago Seven the police captured them in an unconstitutional way by taking off their badges and beating them, although the defendants weren’t resisting arrest. The judge, Julius Hoffman, already made his decision before even allowing the defendants to defend themselves and only listened to what incriminated them. After star witness Ramsey Clark testified while the jurors weren’t present, he confirmed that there was an investigation held which stated that the riots were started by the police department. The judge then denied the authorization that the jurors be able to hear the testimony because he didn’t think that Clark’s testimony could “make a relevant or material contribution” to the defense.

The film focused on a cinematic technique called cross-cutting (when the director is bouncing between two separate scenes at different locations at the same time). The director mainly focused on the court scenes. While the defendants were making their statement on the stand, they would take us back to the actual day and time it occurred so the viewers could have a better understanding of how the event actually played out. Tom Hayden (one of the defendants) was being questioned as a practice to see if he could in fact take the stand after finding the tape of him yelling, “If blood is going to flow, then let it flow all over the city.” A clip was then shown of the actual day and what had happened for him to say it.

The scene showed a boy getting on top of the flag, the police trying to get him down and defendant Rennie Davis trying to help him but instead got police abused by getting hit in the back of the head all because he was trying to get the cops off the other person. When Tom saw this, he took action and said, “if blood is going to flow, then let it flow all over the city,” the phrase that made everyone aggressive and want to “start the riot.” It showed this so we could understand and feel what it was like to see his best friend getting hit in the back of the head and bleed because he was trying to help. But the phrase he said without intention was taken the wrong way. In reality what he was trying to say was that if the police were going to start attacking people, then the whole city should see it. But instead it went down as civilians against law enforcement. That’s when we start to wonder; is law enforcement established to protect us or is it established to hurt us when we stand up for what we believe?

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