Chicago 10

I don’t mean to be negative and give another bad review. . .let’s think of it less of a bad review and more of a step in my constant exploration of the role of art in social change work for engaging and innovative ways to portray issues of racial and economic justice.

This week my work co-hosted a screening of Chicago 10 that I went to with co-conspirator Fabricio Rodriguez, director of Philadelphia Jobs with Justice.

Chicago 10, a new film by Brett Morgen, mixes archival footage with animation to retell the story of the 10 activists who were arrested after the famous 1968 protests against the Vietnam War at the Chicago Democratic National Convention. In my days of reading biographies that I posted about earlier this summer, I had read both David Dillenger and Bobby Seale’s accounts of the trail, and was excited to see an innovative portrayal of all the different activist movements at that time that came together in this moment–the mostly white wacky-with-little-strategy Yippies, the non-violent student movements, the organizing in the black communities by Black Panthers and others. . .

This film was not that.

The animation was horrible, which I was actually willing to forgive for an independent production since animation is both expensive and time consuming. But the set up of the animation shots was also cheesy–odd shots that started on the ceiling of the court room and then swooped down for no other reason than what seemed like “aw, this is a cool effect.”

The music selection was mostly odd as well. The first 20 minutes there a continuous loop of a Rage Against the Machine song in the background so you felt like you were watching a music video. After that it ranged from classical music to reggae–the reggae music when Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin come into the court room wearing court robs in their Yippie challenging authority because they are white boys and they can kinda way. That is not only cliche to use reggae to connote a “relaxed lifestyle” but it’s also kinda inappropriate for a film that’s supposed to be smarter than that. Meanwhile–and this is true straight from the court records–Bobby Seale is literally chained to a chair and gagged and forced to sit humiliated in front of the whole court room. To me this is a classic example of white activists acting out their defiance of authority when it’s fun, but then when a fellow black activist–who wasn’t even supposed to be on trail because he was only in Chicago for 2 hours on the day of the protest–is chained and gagged in a court room for speaking up they say a few words to challenge the judge but nothing more. . . but I’m getting off topic now.

The film was confusing for me, put together in an incoherent way that never came together in the end. I feel like I know a moderate amount about that week of protests. If it was my first time learning about that historical moment I’m not sure that I’d have learned anything from this film, other than what each of those activists looked like in real life from the archival clips. Fabricio pointed out that there was no context–you just knew that there was a war and people thought it was bad, but there as no sense of what work had been happening, how they all came together in Chicago etc.

Of course, that’s just me. But I’m no juror at Sundance. . .

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