Our pop culture loves talking about the music of the sixties of the Vietnam War, but tends to be exceedingly uncomfortable talking in a substantive way about sixties radicalism, which is too bad, given the impact it has on our political discourse. There are documentaries like The Weather Underground, of course, but scripted explorations of radical movements are exceedingly rare. Which is why I’m excited that Chicago 8, which looks like it will focus substantially on Bobby Seale’s trial for conspiracy to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, is finally making it to theaters:
Wherever you stand on the question of Seale’s guilt or innocence in the murders of Black Panthers Alex Rackley and Fred Bennett, the former of whom was suspected of being a police informant (he said he was, though his so-called confession was obtained through torture), the latter of whom may have gotten Seale’s wife pregnant, there’s something terrifying about the prospect of gagging a man at his own trial and sending him to prison for four years for contempt of court. There’s no question that Seale was disruptive during his trial, but he was also both denied a trial date that would have allowed his counsel of choice to represent him and the opportunity to represent himself. Judge Hoffman undoubtedly inconvenienced Seale more than being called a honky and a racist substantively inconvenienced Hoffman. But Hoffman, unlike Seale, had the power in that interaction to silence and entomb the things that made him uncomfortable.