The Angels – Aaron Sorkin is an idealist. Their passionate scripts always envision a compromised policy (The West Wing – Behind the Power), or honest media (The Newsroom) and for this reason it is not surprising that, now, with the film The Chicago 7, he defends citizen protest with total fervor.
“The people who take to the streets to protest are the most patriotic,” he said in an interview with EFE. The charismatic author, who after winning an Oscar for best screenplay for the film The social network (2010) returns to be a candidate for the awards of Hollywood Film Academy with a film that appears in all the forecasts.
The film arrives this week at Netflix and focuses on a controversial trial in the United States in which a group of left-wing activists was accused of causing unrest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
With a formidable cast (Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), Sorkin wrote and directed this powerful film that, although set in the 1960s, reflects themes of great relevance in the United States, such as the defense of civil liberties, the fight against injustice, the criminalization of protests or the friction between the moderate left and radical.
You have a long and successful career as a screenwriter, but this is your second film as a director, after 2017’s ‘The Big Game’. What is the pleasure of sitting behind the camera?
I enjoy the group of people I work with daily. And it’s nice to be involved with the film for longer. I’m always on the set to see things I wrote, but then, during post-production, you have to leave, let the director and the editing staff do their work, and in fact, you don’t see anything until a first montage ready to show you. I like to be present all the way and it is beautiful to know that when there is an error, it is yours.
Why are the 1960s so relevant to understanding the present moment?
When writing, and then directing the film, I did not think of the 1960s, but of the present moment. The film was never made with thought in 1968, but today, especially when this “today” goes back to 14 years, when Steven Spielberg said to me: “I want you to write a script for a film about the seven in Chicago ”. I made sure we didn’t stick to the 1950s iconography: the symbols of peace, the painted T-shirts, the psychedelic aesthetic. And I told our composer, Daniel Pemberton, that the soundtrack shouldn’t have the usual protest anthems, it should be a contemporary score with a large orchestra. Then the world took care of the rest, the United States took care of the rest. AND Donald Trump also. We believed that the film was totally relevant when we produced it last winter, it didn’t have to become even more relevant.
But we did it, you know, with protests going on in the streets about police shooting at African Americans. Those protesters who faced tear gas and batons. Suddenly the news was like scenes from our film.
Thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and the criminalization of protesters in the film, do you think that the right to protest is at risk in the United States?
Yes. And we have evidence. When totally peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square, in front of the White House, were dispersed with gas and rubber bullets by security forces so that Trump could have his picture in a church, it was a scary moment. And also when Trump says on his Twitter that we have to accuse these protesters of conspiracy. This is betrayal, it is an attempt to overthrow a country.
It is the demonization of the protest, whether the street is protesting the murder of George Floyd or an athlete peacefully kneeling on the field during the national anthem. My greatest wish with this film is for people to have fun during the two hours I ask for your attention. And it’s an entertainment film: you will laugh, you will eat popcorn while watching it.
But I also want to pay tribute to the people who take to the streets to protest as the most patriotic of us all.
In their stories there is always a touch of optimism, sometimes idealism. Are you optimistic about the upcoming elections?
I’m an optimist. If you ask me the reason for this, I could not indicate anything specific than the fact that in this country our darkest days have always been followed by the brightest hours. It was a sudden awakening to see in the last four or five years how many people were so easily persuaded by this grotesque and stupid clown, and to realize how much hatred is behind this. We thought it had disappeared in the 1960s, but now it’s back.
As you said, I write in an optimistic, idealistic and romantic way, and this is because I like to write about heroes, who don’t wear capes, don’t have superpowers, and about the goodness we are capable of. And if I’m going to write like this, I should feel the same way in real life (smile).
After the 2016 elections, you wrote an inspiring and emotional letter dedicated to your daughter on how to overcome disappointment. If Trump wins the election again, what would he write to her now?
Your question is curious, because I’ve been thinking about it. Like many parents with young children, I have spent a lot of time in recent years telling her that “this is not normal. This is not what it should be, it had to be something very different ”. But if he wins again, we can’t go on saying it’s not normal. I believe that the letter for her will have to be of encouragement: “Do not surrender, do not become a somber or cynical person. Keep fighting: this is how we will win ”.
TRANSLATION OF TEREZINHA MARTINO