Reflecting the headlines of both the 1960s and today, Aaron Sorkin’s Netflix movie The Trial of the Chicago 7 features a cast of big-name actors including Eddie Redmayne, Michael Keaton, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong. But what happened to the colorful real-life personalities involved in the infamous court case that put the spotlight on both protesters and authorities?
The Chicago Seven were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner (counting Black Panther activist Bobby Seale as a defendant, they were also known as the Chicago Eight). Met with police violence at anti-war protests in 1968, five were found guilty of incitement to riot and slapped with the harshest sentence possible. All the defendants and their lawyers also got hefty sentences for contempt of court, but Judge Julius Hoffman’s decisions were later overturned on appeal.
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The Trial of the Chicago 7, which Sorkin wrote and directed, is out on Netflix now. Here’s what the defendants, lawyers and other notable figures of the Chicago Seven trial did after the events portrayed in the film.
Played in the movie by Alex Sharp
A founder of activist group Students for a Democratic Society, Davis was found guilty of crossing state lines with intent to riot. The conviction was overturned on appeal. In the 1970s, he was involved in the Divine Light Mission religious group following the teachings of an Indian guru before becoming a venture capitalist focusing on socially responsible investment.
He’s played in the film by Alex Sharp, the British-born Tony-winning Broadway star who will take a lead role in the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel.
Played in the movie by John Carroll Lynch
The oldest of the defendants, Dellinger was a Yale graduate and pacifist who’d been imprisoned as a conscientious objector during World War II, protesting against segregated prisons while there. During his life he wrote several books on nonviolence. Dellinger died in 2004 at 88.
Played in the movie by Daniel Flaherty
Another Yale student and member of Students for a Democratic Society, Froines was accused of using his chemistry know-how to make incendiary devices. He was one of only two defendants who were acquitted of the incitement charges, although they were still found guilty of contempt of court charges. Later a professor at UCLA, he served on bodies working on California air quality for 30 years before resigning over a conflict of interest.
The actor playing John Froines is Daniel Flaherty from US TV shows Skins and The Americans.
Played in the movie by Eddie Redmayne
A journalist and activist, Hayden was convicted of conspiracy and incitement charges at the trial. He later served as a California state senator, wrote more than 20 books and married actress and anti-war activist Jane Fonda. Hayden died in October 2016 at age 76 and was the first to be buried in a new eco-friendly section of a Santa Monica, California, cemetery.
Played in the movie by Sacha Baron Cohen
The larger-than-life Hoffman made headlines with his performance in court. He was a founder of the Youth International Party “Yippie” movement and a proponent of “Flower Power” who later jumped on stage at Woodstock and interrupted The Who’s performance to protest on behalf of the White Panther party.
In 1971, Hoffman published a book about living for free titled Steal This Book, although he then went into hiding to avoid cocaine charges. In 1986, he was arrested for protesting against the CIA alongside the daughter of former President Jimmy Carter but was acquitted. Hoffman appeared briefly in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July as a man waving a flag at a protest but before the film came committed suicide in 1989.
Hoffman is played in the film by Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen. His colorful life also inspired the 2000 biopic Steal This Movie starring Vincent D’Onofrio as Hoffman, and he was depicted in the anti-war protest scenes of Forrest Gump.
Played in the movie by Jeremy Strong
Another founder of the Yippies, Rubin dropped out of UC Berkeley to join the anti-war movement. Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in 1967, he dressed up in an American Revolutionary War uniform and Viet Cong outfit. In Chicago, he and Hoffman continued their courtroom antics. Rubin later pivoted to being a businessman and investor, working on Wall Street and becoming a multimillionaire who was one of the first investors in Apple. He died in 1994 at 56 after being hit by a car.
In this film, Rubin is played by Succession star Jeremy Strong. Rubin has also been depicted in other films including Steal This Movie! and Helter Skelter, portraying his relationship with Charles Manson.
Played in the movie by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Texas-born Seale was a co-founder of The Black Panther Party along with Huey Newton. He was one of the group of defendants when it was known as the Chicago Eight, but he was separated from the trial and imprisoned for contempt of court. He narrowly missed out on being elected mayor of Oakland in 1973 and left the Panthers in 1974 after a reported fight with Newton.
Since then, he wrote his memoirs and a barbecue cookbook, advertised Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and taught Black history in Philadelphia. He’s played in the film by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who recently won an Emmy for Watchmen.
Played in the movie by Noah Robbins
Along with Froines, Weiner was acquitted at the trial. He continued as an activist with AmeriCares and the Anti-Defamation League and published his memoir Conspiracy to Riot in 2020.
Other notable figures
Played in the movie by Michael Keaton
Progressive Texas-born lawyer and civil rights advocate Clark was Lyndon B. Johnson’s attorney general. He vocally opposed the Vietnam and Iraq wars and called for the impeachment of George W Bush. He later defended dictators Radovan Karadzic and Saddam Hussein and criticized US foreign policy.
Played in the movie by Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, Hampton brokered peace between street gangs and developed the multicultural Rainbow Coalition uniting various civil rights organizations. Targeted by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, he was shot dead in his bed by police in December 1969 at 21. Hampton’s story will be told on screen in forthcoming film Judas and the Black Messiah, starring Daniel Kaluuya.
Played in the movie by Frank Langella
Combative Chicago Judge Hoffman clashed with the defendants and their lawyers, removing Bobby Seale from the trial and giving the defendants heavy sentences for contempt of court. He’d previously overseen proceedings including an obscenity case against comedy legend Lenny Bruce (as hinted at in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel) and afterward continued to hear cases until his death in 1983 at age 88.
Played in the movie by: Mark Rylance
Kunstler was a New York lawyer and director of the American Civil Liberties Union who clashed with the judge and prosecutors until he was sentenced along with the defendants for contempt of court and forced to have his hair cut. A radical lawyer and author, he defended other activists and countercultural firebrands like the Freedom Riders, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Weather Underground and the Attica Prison rioters.
Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Kunstler also defended Jack Ruby, several Mafia figures including John Gotti, and Yusuf Saalam of the Central Park 5. He died in 1995 at 76, but not before he played a lawyer in Oliver Stone’s rock biopic The Doors and a judge in Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X.
John N. Mitchell
Played in the movie by John Doman
Played by The Wire star John Doman, Mitchell was Richard Nixon’s attorney general who pushed to charge the anti-war protestors. A patrol boat commander during World War II, he became a close friend of Nixon and a figurehead of the government’s law-and-order stance. He was later convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury related to the Watergate break-in and cover-up and served 19 months in prison. He died in 1988.
Played in the movie by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Prosecution lawyer Schultz was far less sympathetic to the defendants’ cause than depicted in the film. He continued to practice law with the firm Foran & Schultz founded by his fellow prosecutor in the case, Tom Foran, played in the film by JC MacKenzie.
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