Among eight films nominated for the Best Picture at the Oscars this year, two take us back to Chicago in the end of 1969. The first one is ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ and the second ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’.
The end of 1960s was an interesting time when people were protesting against the war in Vietnam, fighting for their civil right, women’s rights and gay rights. It was also the time when FBI under J. Edgar Hoover would spy on them, intimidate them and in general overuse its power. He instructed the FBI to monitor Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, John Lennon, Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda and other Hollywood celebrities. He ordered the agents to penetrate into the Black Panther Party, Nation of Islam or Southern Christian Leadership Conference among other organizations.
‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ is very skillfully showing the atmosphere of the times. It shows the protest of 1968 during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as well as the later trial of the seven anti-Vietnam protesters. The trial was originally called Chicago 8 because of the eight defendant, national chairman of the Black Panther Party Bobby Seale, but his case was later severed from the trial of the Chicago 7.
The film supports the idea that it was a political trial, that other governments of the time in the world wouldn’t be ashamed of. It uncovers the political games behind the scene and shows that it was decided the defendants were guilty before it even started. It was just a show trial. It also makes us realize that even though the situation seems to be similar nowadays, when people protest against the injustices around us, we can at least be assured that the times have changed and some of the things that happened then couldn’t have happened now.
One of them would be the fact that Bobby Seale was bound and gagged in the court to prevent him from speaking to the judge Julius Hoffman and demanding his constitutional right to defend himself in the absence of his lawyer. In the film he is advised by Fred Hampton, the leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers and his death is then mentioned in the movie.
The second mentioned film, ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’, is about the life and assassination of Fred Hampton. He was betrayed by a fellow Black Panther member and killed in his bed during a raid. Chicago police shot over 80 gunshots while being fired at once. Another member of the Black Panthers was also killed and many others injured. The raid is now believed to be organized by the FBI.
Both films remind us that we need to fight for what we believe to be right, in spite of the circumstances or consequences. They show us that we should always do the right thing.