Forty years ago one of the ugliest displays of police brutality in American history occurred on thousands of peaceful protesters during the 1968 Democratic Convention. This incident and subsequent trial are brilliantly captured in the compelling documentary, “Chicago 10.”
Drawing many parallels to current events, the documentary finds many Americans are dissatisfied with a senseless war and are demanding change. Two groups, MOBE and the Yippees, take the lead and begin months of meetings designed to organize and conduct peaceful protests during the convention in Chicago. But the “Law and Order” movement led by Chicago Mayor Richard Dailey is determined not to have the “flower children” disrupt the proceeding. He empowers the Chicago Police Department and the National Guard to prepare for the onslaught.
Intermixed with this story is the subsequent trial that occurred the following year featuring many of the march’s protesters including Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden and Bobby Seale. Writer, producer and director Brett Morgen expertly interweaves black and white, color and even animation to construct the story of three days that changed American, politically forever. His film captures the mood of times and how the flower children influenced future generations, by simply taking a stand.
Morgen also blends the voices of some of the real participants with a group of actors perhaps nostalgic for the event and the period. Featuring Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright and the late Roy Scheider. Some of the real participants who lent their voices included Seale, Hoffman, Rubin and their attorney, Williams Kunstler. Their voice-work also lends to the film authenticity recreating the mood of their tumultuous experience.
Much like the police harassment suffered by Dr. Martin Luther King and members of the civil rights movement in 1950s racist Alabama caught on tape, the violent role of law enforcement on the peaceful protesters serves as a powerful reminder that even hate can’t stop a tide of change. Whether beating unarmed protestors or aggressively handcuffing and gagging Black Panther founder Seale, “Chicago 10” is full of law in a swirling, heated cauldron that is WAAAAY out of order.
Whether unjustly misrepresented in court or chase in harassed on the streets of “the Chi,” “Chicago 10” is a great civics lesson in the important and powerful role young people play in bringing about change and also goes to show that the more things change, they still remain the same.