Review: ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7,’ starring Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella and Michael Keaton

December 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row: Caitlin FitzGerald, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch and Sacha Baron Cohen in “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Photo by Nico Tavernise/Netflix) 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Directed by Aaron Sorkin

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1968 to 1970, primarily in Chicago and briefly in Washington, D.C., the dramatic film “The Trial of the Chicago 7” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: Eight men accused of inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago go on trial in a case that exemplified the conflicts between the “establishment government” and “radical activists.”

Culture Audience: “The Trial of the Chicago 7″ will appeal primarily to people interested in dramatic interpretations of real political and legal events in American history during the Vietnam War, with the stories being unapologetically sympathetic to progressive liberal politics.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ben Shenkman, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne and Alex Sharp in “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Photo by Nico Tavernise/Netflix)

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” might as well have been called “The Showcase of Sacha Baron Cohen.” Although the movie has a big ensemble cast, he ends up stealing the show in his portrayal of left-wing activist Abbie Hoffman. This elevation of Hoffman as the “star” of the story is entirely by design, since “The Trial of Chicago 7” writer/director Aaron Sorkin has a reputation for not allowing actors to improvise in the movies that he writes and directs.

Taking place mostly in Chicago from 1968 to 1970, amid protests against the controversial Vietnam War, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” seems entirely calculated to win as many prestigious awards as possible. “The Trial of Chicago 7” exposes those ambitions too blatantly for it to feel like a truly immersive cinematic experience. The results are that viewers will feel constantly reminded that they’re watching showboat performances and re-enactments rather than being transported to experiencing the genuine emotions of the real-life people involved in this story.

Sorkin (who won an Oscar for writing the 2010 movie “The Social Network”) delivers the type of articulate and verbose screenplay that people would expect from the Emmy-winning former showrunner of “The West Wing.” “The Trial of Chicago 7” has got plenty of sociopolitical commentary that makes conservatives look like villains, and liberals look like heroes. (Sorkin is an outspoken liberal in real life.) There’s also a lot of snappy dialogue with witty one-liners and feisty arguments. And the film editing, which jumps back and forth in time, keeps the tone and pace of the movie very lively.

The trial is obviously the center of the story, but the movie’s non-chronological scenes alternate between showing the trial, showing events leading up to the trial, and showing what happened outside of the courtroom during the six months that the trial took place. It’s a lot to cram into a feature-length movie—”The Trial of the Chicago 7″ clocks in at 129 minutes—so some defendants get a lot more screen time and backstories than others. For the most part, the dramatic retelling of this true story works. However, there are a few scenes that were obviously fabricated for the movie, while the movie also leaves out a lot of uncomfortable truths.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” begins with a brief overview of how the U.S. was affected by the Vietnam War, which was declared by President Lyndon Johnson (a moderate Democrat) in 1965 to save Vietnam from Communism. The Vietnam War escalated into a conflict that American protesters believed was a pointless and expensive war. As thousands of people died in the war, young men in America tried to avoid being drafted into the military. And millions of Americans, especially many of college age, became conscientious war protestors. Vietnam War advocates labeled anti-war protesters as “radicals” and “unpatriotic.”

In 1968, Johnson did not seek re-election. Hubert Humphrey, a former U.S. Senator from Minnesota, became the U.S. presidential nominee for the Democratic Party that year. Humphrey’s conservative Republican opponent was Richard Nixon, a former U.S. vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower. Nixon would go on to win the presidential election in 1968 and was inaugurated in January 1969.

But before that happened, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago in August 1968 became a flashpoint for increasing civil unrest over the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Thousands of protestors gathered in Chicago, resulting in violent clashes between law enforcement (Chicago police and the National Guard) and protestors. The riots lasted for two days and ended with 11 people dead, an untold number of people wounded, and thousands of people arrested.

In April 1968, U.S. Congress passed the Rap Brown Law, to make it illegal for people who live outside a community to incite confrontations in a community where they don’t live. It was intended as an anti-riot law, but critics of the law believed its was just the government’s response to people who wanted to organize widespread protests against the Vietnam War and racial injustice. People who advocated for the law believed that it was necessary to help prevent violence during protests.

Johnson and his administration’s U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to federally prosecute anyone for the violence that happened at the 1968 DNC, which ended up being used as an example of how divided America was over the Vietnam War. However, Johnson’s presidential successor Nixon, who ran for U.S. president on a platform to restore “law and order,” had other ideas on how to deal with the chief protestors who were at the 1968 DNC. The Rap Brown Law was about to be enforced, and certain protestors were going to be prosecuted for it.

One of the early scenes in the movie takes place in 1969, in Washington, D.C., by depicting a meeting called by John Mitchell (played by John Doman), the U.S. attorney general appointed by Nixon. In the meeting with Mitchell are attorneys Richard Schultz (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Thomas Foran (played by J.C. MacKenzie) and Howard Ackerman (played by Damien Young), who is a special adviser to Mitchell. Mitchell tells Schultz and Moran that he intends to use the Rap Brown Law to prosecute the leaders of some of the anti-Vietnam War groups who were at the 1968 DNC.

Schultz, who is a very by-the-book young attorney, can’t understand why this prosecution should take place, because Johnson declined to federally prosecute anyone for the 1969 DNC riots because of a lack of evidence. Mitchell essentially says that he doesn’t care, and he agrees with Nixon in wanting to make an example out of these “radical” left-wing leaders. Mitchell also strongly hints that he has a grudge against Clark (played by Michael Keaton), because Mitchell believes that Clark disrespected him in the transition process when the Nixon administration took over from the Johnson administration.

Mitchell decides that Schultz will be the lead prosecutor in the case, with Foran also on the prosecution team. Schultz is very reluctant to take the job because he feels that he doesn’t have enough experience in handling such a big, high-profile case. However, Mitchell insists that Schultz is the best person for the job and convinces Schultz to be the lead prosecutor in the case. It’s not said outright, but viewers can infer that Mitchell chose Schultz because Mitchell probably felt that Schultz’s youth and inexperience would make it easier for the U.S. government to manipulate Schultz.

On March 20, 1969, eight left-wing group leaders were indicted for conspiracy to cross state lines to incite the 1968 DNC riots, among other charges. Their joint trial began in Chicago on September 24, 1969. Presiding over the trial was Judge Julius Hoffman (played by Frank Langella) of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The eight men on trial were:

  • Tom Hayden, a former president and prominent leader of the activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
  • Rennie Davis (played by Alex Sharp), another prominent SDS leader, who is depicted in the movie as Hayden’s best friend.
  • Abbie Hoffman (played by Baron Cohen), co-founder of the Youth International Party, also known as the Yippies, a group advocating for counterculture politics and lifestyles.
  • Jerry Rubin (played by Jeremy Strong), co-founder the Youth International Party.
  • David Dellinger (played by John Carroll Lynch), a prominent member of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (The MOBE), a conference of anti-Vietnam War groups.
  • John Froines (played by Danny Flaherty), a MOBE member who was eventually acquitted of all charges in the trial.
  • Lee Weiner (played by Noah Robbins), a MOBE member who was eventually acquitted of all charges in the trial.
  • Bobby Seale (played by Yayha Abdul-Mateen II), co-founder of the Black Panther Party, an activist group against racial discrimination of black people.

The attorneys for the defendants who are portrayed in the movie are William Kunstler (played by Mark Rylance) and his colleague Leonard Weinglass (played by Ben Shenkman). Kunstler is portrayed as passionate supporter of civil liberties who is fairly even-tempered except when his patience is pushed to the limits. On the prosecution side, Schultz’s courtroom style is more conventional than Kunstler’s style. The supporting lawyers on each side (Foran for the prosecution, Weinglass for the defense) don’t have as much screen time or personality in the movie as the lead attorneys.

And from the beginning, there were problems with Seale being on trial in the first place. He’s depicted as very outspoken in trying to distance himself from the other defendants, by saying that he didn’t even know most of them and certainly didn’t conspire with them. Seale was only in Chicago for four hours to give a speech on one of the days of the 1968 DNC. And in the portions of the trial that are depicted in the movie, Seale vehemently objected on his own behalf because his attorney Charles Garry wasn’t in the courtroom because Garry was in Oakland, California, having surgery.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” portrays the biggest villain in the courtroom as Judge Hoffman, who doesn’t try to hide his bias against the defendants. The movie also shows that the judge had a racist side in how he treated Seale differently from the other defendants. Judge Hoffman didn’t seem to care that Seale’s attorney wasn’t present during the trial. In a harrowing scene, after Seale was jailed for contempt of court, for angrily talking back to the judge, the Black Panthers leader experienced police brutality from cops who were basically given permission by the judge to do whatever they wanted to Seale to teach him a lesson.

After being physically assaulted by these cops, Seale was paraded back in the courtroom in handcuffs and chains, with a gag on his mouth. Although the white defendants also received several contempt of court citations, they were not physically assaulted and humiliated in the way that Seale was during the trial. The movie depicts several people, including lead attorneys Kunstler and Schultz, being shocked and outraged at how Seale was mistreated, but not doing much about it.

In real life, several of the white defendants were heavily involved in the civil rights movement and fighting against racial discrimination. However, the movie focuses more on the white defendants’ anti-Vietnam War protests as their main activism. Racism is mostly used in the movie as a plot device for Seale’s storyline.

Early on in the trial, Kunstler advises Fred Hampton (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), the leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, to tell the Black Panthers who are gathered in the courtroom to not sit together. The implication is clear: A bunch of black people sitting together is considered a “threat,” while it’s perfectly okay for white people to sit together. Hampton understands why this request was made, and he tells the Black Panthers in the courtroom to spread out and to take off their hats—not because he wants to be subservient to white racism but because he knows that Seale has a better chance of being acquitted if the Black Panthers in the courtroom aren’t perceived as a “threat.”

And once Seale is out of the picture (a mistrial was declared for Seale on November 6, 1969), the issue of racism also disappears from the movie. Seale’s departure leaves seven remaining defendants, and then the movie really becomes the Abbie Hoffman Show. “The Trial of Chicago 7” makes wisecracking Hoffman out to be the “class clown” who’s also the “hero” of the movie. Hoffman clashes with Hayden outside of the courtroom, so that the movie can show that these seven defendants didn’t have the united front that the public thought they had at the time.

Hoffman’s sarcastic persona is often expressed in how he talks back to the judge. In an early part of the trial, Judge Hoffman announces in court that the record should reflect that he’s not related to Abbie Hoffman. In response, defendant Hoffman shouts out in mock indignation, “Father!”

It’s one of many outbursts that Hoffman makes in the courtroom during the trial. Hoffman also makes fun of the judge when the judge repeatedly and mistakenly uses the name Derringer when referring to defendant Dellinger. Hoffman suggests that the judge remember that Derringer is the brand name of a gun.

While out on bail, the movie shows several scenes of Hoffman on stage in darkly lit places filled with audiences eager to hear what he has to say. The movie frames these scenes as if Hoffman is a stand-up comedian in a nightclub, as he delivers jokes and one-liners about what it’s like to be on trial and what a farce he thinks the trial is. Judge Hoffman is often mentioned in Abbie Hoffman’s rants against the system.

Rubin is portrayed as Hoffman’s loyal sidekick who is effective in a way that calls less attention to himself than Hoffman’s more loudmouthed techniques. However, Hoffman and Rubin’s fiery brand of activism and shenanigans outside the courtroom garner enough media attention that Judge Hoffman wants to sequester the jury. It’s also implied that Hayden resented all the media attention that Hoffman was getting, and that was was part of the reason why Hoffman and Hayden clashed so much behind the scenes during the trial.

Although “The Trial of Chicago 7” makes Hoffman the comic relief in the film, the movie also portrays him not as a buffoon but as the savviest one of the defendants. He’s the first one to declare in a meeting with the other defendants, “This is a political trial. It [the outcome] was already decided for us,” while Hayden still wants to believe that the defendants will get a fair trial.

Hayden is less inclined to believe that there are larger political motives behind the trial. “I would love it if the trial wasn’t about us, but I assure you that it is,” he tells a disbelieving Hoffman. Hayden also disagrees with Hoffman’s view that society needs a radical overhaul. During one of their arguments, Hayden yells at Hoffman: “I don’t have time for cultural revolution! I have time for actual revolution!”

Overall, Hayden’s character is portrayed in a less sympathetic light than Hoffman’s character. Hayden is depicted as uptight, somewhat pretentious and someone who isn’t as revolutionary as he claims to be. There are many hints that show that Hayden was using SDS because he had future ambitions to become a mainstream politician. (And if you don’t know what Hayden did with his life after the trial, the movie has an epilogue summary of what happened to all the trial’s main players.)

The most problematic and unrealistic scene in the film is when Hoffman and Rubin, out on bail during the trial, see lead prosecutor Schultz with one of his kids in a park. Hoffman and Rubin call Schultz over for a conversation, which is basically yet another scene to showcase Hoffman being a wiseass. Anyone who knows anything about trials would immediately see that it’s highly unethical and a cause for a mistrial for a prosecutor, while a trial is ongoing, to talk to the trial’s defendants outside of the courtroom without the defendants’ attorneys present.

It’s a scene that’s also out-of-character for Schultz, who made an impression as someone with high standards of playing by the rules, up until this scene. It just doesn’t make sense for prosecutor Schultz to risk having an unethical conversation before the trial is over with two defendants in a public park, of all places, where there would be witnesses who could report seeing this conversation. Not only could this unethical conversation cause a mistrial, but it could also taint Schultz’s career.

And therefore, the only conclusion that viewers can come to when noticing this big legal blunder in the movie is that this scene was concocted as a way to make Hoffman and Rubin have a face-to-face confrontation with one of their trial adversaries outside of the courtroom. It cheapens the movie’s screenplay and it actually insults the intelligence of anyone who knows what the law is when it comes to what U.S. trial participants can and cannot do before the trial is over.

There are also many disruptions during the trial that look exaggerated for the sake of making the movie more dramatic, comedic and tension-filled. There’s a point in the movie where Judge Hoffman loses control of the courtroom in such a way that it looks very fake. Don’t take a drink of alcohol every time Judge Hoffman is seen banging his gavel in frustration because people won’t listen to him, because you might end up with alcohol poisoning.

The costume design and production design for “The Trial of the Chicago 7” are very accurate, but the way the movie is filmed, everything looks like a movie set and everyone looks like an actor playing a role. The riot scenes are filmed in a perfunctory manner, in the way that many other similar Vietnam War-era riot scenes have been filmed in other movies. There’s some real-life news footage spliced in some of the scenes, which will just remind viewers even more how staged the re-enactments are.

And this is very much a “boys’ club” movie, since the few women with significant speaking roles in the film are either playing the role of an office worker, a romantic partner or a “temptress.” Caitlin FitzGerald is the only woman who’s listed as a co-star in the cast ensemble. She plays Agent Daphne O’Connor, an undercover officer who poses as a radical counterculture activist named Debbie, who pretends to show a romantic interest in Rubin so she can get information out of him. Agent O’Connor later testifies for the prosecution in the trial, and the movie makes a big deal out of Rubin being emotionally hurt over being “tricked” by this temptress.

What’s deliberately omitted from “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is any acknowledgment that these so-called “liberal” and “free-thinking” men who were on trial were leaders of organizations that perpetuated a culture of sexism against women. While this movie is busy making Hoffman look like a progressive left-wing hero, it doesn’t show or question why Hoffman couldn’t be bothered to treat women as equals in the activist group that he founded.

Women are certainly seen in the movie’s protest scenes, but they’re only as background extras, along with male protesters. In real life, there were some women who were able to break through sexist barriers and have prominent roles in America’s anti-Vietnam War activism, such as Sandra “Casey” Cason, Judy Gumbo and Robin Morgan, just to name a few of the female contemporaries who at one time or another worked with Hoffman and/or Hayden. But these women, or women who are like them, are completely shut out of the movie.

If you were to believe everything in “The Trial of Chicago 7,” women didn’t come up with any clever ideas or take any leadership roles in organizing these protests or activism in general. It’s a huge blind spot in the movie that erases women’s important contributions to this part of American history and therefore paints a very inaccurate picture. The movie makes it look like men did all the real work behind the scenes, and women just basically answered the phones.

Despite these flaws, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” can be considered entertaining enough because of the performances from the cast members. Baron Cohen is the obvious standout, but Redmayne, Mateen and Rylance also turn in memorable and noteworthy performances. But just like the TV series “Law & Order” shouldn’t be considered a completely accurate portrayal of the U.S. criminal justice system, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” shouldn’t be considered a completely accurate depiction of this notorious case.

Netflix released “The Trial of the Chicago 7” in select U.S. cinemas on September 25, 2020. The movie premiered on Netflix on October 16, 2020.

Review: ‘All Day and a Night,’ starring Ashton Sanders, Jeffrey Wright, Regina Taylor, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Isaiah John, Kelly Jenrette and Shakira Ja’Nai Paye

May 1, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ashton Sanders and Jeffrey Wright in “All Day and a Night” (Photo by Matt Kennedy/Netflix)

“All Day and a Night”

Directed by Joe Robert Cole

Culture Representation: Taking place in Oakland, California, the drama “All Day and a Night” has a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people) representing the middle-class, lower-class and criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: A young African American man struggles to become a law-abiding citizen, but he falls into the same criminal lifestyles of his father and paternal grandfather.

Culture Audience: “All Day and a Night” will appeal primarily to people who want to see the same negative clichés of African Americans in ghettos that several movies and TV shows have already done.

Ashton Sanders and Shakira Ja’nai Paye in “All Day and a Night” (Photo by Matt Kennedy/Netflix)

If people wonder why so many racists automatically think African American men are violent thugs, a movie like “All Day and a Night” just fuels that racism, because this unoriginal and uninspired movie panders to the worst negative stereotypes of African Americans. The fact that “All Day and a Night” was written and directed by an African American—Joe Robert Cole, who co-wrote “Black Panther” with director Ryan Coogler—doesn’t excuse it or make it better.

There’s a reason why predominantly African American dramas such as “Black Panther,” “Creed” and “Hidden Figures” did so well at the box office, while predominantly African American films about black criminals, such as the modern-day remakes of “Superfly” and “Shaft,” turned out to be flops. (And it’s probably why “All Day and a Night” went straight to Netflix instead of being a theatrical release.)

People are hungry for diverse African American stories that aren’t about the old, tired stereotype of African Americans being “criminals from the ‘hood.” This “criminals from the ‘hood” movie might have been fresh and original back in the early 1990s, with the success of “Boyz N the Hood,” “New Jack City” and “Menace II Society.” But today’s movie audiences are much more aware of the diversity in African American culture and want to see that diversity reflected on screen. Filmmakers can do better in representing that diversity, instead of lazily falling back on racist clichés that have been done already in countless movies and TV shows.

Set in Oakland, California, “All Day and a Night” is a story about a man in his early 20s named Jahkor Abraham Lincoln (played by Ashton Sanders), who comes from a family where generations of the men in the family have ended up in prison. In voiceovers throughout the movie, an adult Jahkor says things like, “By the time my father was 6, his father had been to jail nine times” and “When violence is all around you, you get used to it.”

It’s shown from the beginning of the film that Jahkor is a cold-blooded murderer—he snuck into a home and shot a man and a woman to death in front of their young daughter—and he’s been sentenced to life in prison for the crime. The rest of the film has flashbacks to various points in Jahkor’s life to show how and why he ended up this way.

There’s absolutely nothing unique or interesting about Jahkor to make audiences think that he was a talented and well-meaning kid who had the bad luck to fall through the cracks in an uncaring society. In fact, Jahkor—who is a mediocre aspiring rapper (how cliché)—grew up with the support of a hard-working mother, a loving grandmother and a schoolmate friend who has goals to get out of the ghetto and do something better with his life than becoming a criminal. But the movie clearly shows that Jahkor ignored these positive role models and instead chose the “thug life” of his own free will. Therefore, he (and this movie’s audience) can’t really blame other people for his choices.

“All Day and a Night” star Sanders played the teenage protagonist Chiron in the Oscar-winning 2016 African American drama “Moonlight” in the protagonist’s adolescent years, before Chiron became a drug-dealing gangster nicknamed Black. Just like “Moonlight,” the story in “All Day and a Night” also shows different stages of the protagonist’s life: as a child, a teenager and an adult. The protagonist in both movies also has an abusive, cocaine-addicted parent—in “Moonlight,” it’s the mother; in “All Day and a Night,” it’s the father.

But what made “Moonlight” different, besides the almost poetic way that the movie was made, was that the gangster protagonist turned out to be a sensitive, closeted gay man who’s had a longtime inner struggle about his sexuality. It’s also why “Moonlight” didn’t have the African American ghetto movie cliché of the protagonist being a deadbeat dad with an angry baby mama by the time he’s 22.

And the protagonist in “Moonlight” really had no positive, law-abiding role models in his home: His mother was an abusive crackhead, and the only male role model who was nice to him as a kid was one of the mother’s boyfriends, who was also her drug dealer. “All Day and a Night” is no “Moonlight,” although writer/director Cole obviously wants this cliché-ridden movie to be as widely acclaimed as “Moonlight.” That’s not going to happen.

“All Day and a Night” tells the story in bits and pieces and in flashbacks. As a child in middle school, Jahkor (played by Jalyn Emil Hall) does poorly in academics, and he’s bullied at school. When his father James Daniel Lincoln, also known as JD (played by Jeffrey Wright), finds out that Jahkor has been bullied, his response is to brutally beat Jahkor, tell him that he needs to toughen up, and order Jahkor to beat up the school bully the next time Jakhor sees the bully. Jahkor follows his father’s orders and gets suspended from school.

In Jahkor’s household, Jahkor’s mother Delanda (played by Kelly Jenrette) just stands by passively and does nothing to stop the abuse, since she’s afraid of JD, who’s abusive and threatening to her too. The movie implies that Delanda is one of those women who thinks it’s better to have a man who’s abusive than to have no man at all, even if her child is being abused too. Delanda loves Jahkor and is kind to him, but she doesn’t have the inner strength to get help for the domestic violence, and to keep herself and her child out of harm’s way.

Jahkor’s maternal grandmother Tommetta (played by Regina Taylor), who does not live with the family, is the most positive role model in Jahkor’s life. She encourages Jahkor to follow his dreams and tells him that there are other ways to solve problems than through violence. JD openly scoffs and ridicules Tommetta, by telling her that she’s making Jahkor soft and that she’s too religious. Meanwhile, JD’s life goes on a downward spiral, as he becomes a coke-addicted, drug-dealing murderer, who ends up in the same prison as Jahkor. A scene in the movie also reveals that JD spent some time in a psychiatric institution, which is a part of JD’s background that is stated, but not shown, in the movie.

The movie makes a half-hearted attempt to show that Delanda and her mother tried the best they could to help Jahkor. In a meeting with Jahkor’s middle-school teacher Ms. Ferguson (played by Baily Hopkins), Delanda and her mother seem to be part of the problem, when they react in disbelief at Jahkor’s low grades. Tommetta says that Jahkor is smarter than the grades that he’s been getting, and they say that he just needs someone to believe in him.

There are a few things wrong with the way this movie handles the parent-teacher involvement in Jahkor’s life. First, the movie tries to make it look like the school system failed Jahkor in his education, when in actuality, the mother and the grandmother should bear some of the blame too. These parental figures have an attitude that someone at the school needs to believe in Jahkor, yet the movie doesn’t show how the mother and the grandmother should be those people who believe in Jahkor, instead of making it the government’s problem.

The grandmother, who’s of retirement age, could have had the time to tutor Jahkor in the subjects that she felt she could help him with the most. The mother and the grandmother also could have enrolled Jahkor in free after-school activities, regardless if he was academically gifted or not. They live in Oakland (not a deprived rural area), and a big city like Oakland has a lot of free resources for underprivileged youth.

These are the pro-active things that parents do when they don’t rely on schools to teach their children things like morality, respect and a good work ethic. And you don’t have to be economically privileged to have these kinds of values. But, of course, that doesn’t fit the movie’s narrative that a kid like Jahkor is “doomed” to repeat the criminal activities of his father and other men in his family. It’s truly offensive how this movie portrays most African American men as criminals and most African American women as passive followers who just go along with what the (criminal) men in their lives want.

As for Jahkor’s peer group, his closest friends include “bad boy” TQ (played by Kaleb Alexander Roberts as a child, and Isaiah John as an adult) and “good boy” Lamark (played by Ramone Hamilton as a child, and Christopher Meyer as an adult). Lamark is the aforementioned friend who has ambitions to not be a negative ghetto stereotype. Lamark comes from a stable, loving, two-parent household with a younger sister. Lamark’s family ends up being somewhat of a surrogate family to Jahkor.

Jahkor utters this line in one of the movie’s voiceovers: “Outside the ‘hood, people think every family is messed-up like mine. Lots of people take care of business, and if they ain’t you, you put your faith in them.” The irony of this statement is that this entire movie is about the “messed-up African American family” stereotype, so it just reinforces the negative images that “people outside the ‘hood” have of African Americans who are “from the ‘hood.”

Lamark ends up volunteering for the Army, where he comes home wounded from the war in Afghanistan. As a result of his war wounds, Lamark becomes a paraplegic. Jahkor becomes bitter that his friend “who did everything right” and served the U.S. government as a loyal soldier ended up in this tragic situation. It’s an excuse for this movie to show why Jahkor turned to a life of crime.

About a year before the murders, a flashback shows that Jahkor had started dating a young woman close to his age named Shantaye (played by Shakira Ja’nai Paye). She ends up doing the most cliché thing that African American women do in ghetto movies like this one: She gets pregnant while not being married to the baby’s father, who doesn’t have a steady job.

When she tells Jahkor about the pregnancy, he’s elated, but they don’t seem too concerned about how they’re going to pay to raise this child, which is yet another racist stereotype that implies that they’re going to live off of government welfare. What Shantaye does for money isn’t really made clear in this movie, because this film obviously doesn’t to want to show African American women as educated career women.

By the time Jahkor finds out that he’s going to become a father, he has a criminal record that includes armed robbery, resisting arrest and home invasion. These arrests are not shown in the movie, but the information is stated after he’s brought to the police station in another scene in the movie when Jahkor is questioned about another crime. “All Day and a Night” is not told in chronological order, so viewers have to keep up with all the random flashbacks.

Because he’s a convicted felon, Jahkor has trouble finding a real job. He gets more motivated to make an honest living after finding out that he’s going to be a father. So, he calls in a favor to a straight-laced friend, and lands a job as a sales clerk at an athletic shoe store, because the person who previously had the position had suddenly quit. In one scene, a white woman goes in the store and sees Jahkor moving some shoe boxes, and she suspiciously asks him what he’s doing, because she thinks he’s a thief. Jahkor tells her that he works there, but she backs out of the store apprehensively and leaves.

In a voiceover, Jahkor says racist incidents like this are like little cuts that add up to big emotional wounds. However, it’s hard to feel too sorry for Jahkor, because although the white woman’s reaction to him was very racist, his own violent criminal record proves that he’s not a harmless angel. And whose fault is it that he chose to be a criminal? Movies like “All Day and a Night” certainly reinforce the negative stereotype that most black men are criminals, and that’s a stereotype that causes a lot of damaging racism.

“All Day and a Night” seems to want to ignore the reality that people who choose to openly live a “thug life” shouldn’t be too surprised when people stereotype them as criminals. If this racist incident depicted in the movie had happened to a black person without a violent criminal record (and racist incidents like this do happen to law-abiding black people in real life), then maybe more sympathy would be deserved.

And “All Day and a Night” certainly can’t blame Jahkor’s destructive lifestyle on white racism (even though the movie seems to want to put the blame there), because there is nothing but black-on-black violence in the film. But the movie wants people to feel sorry for Jahkor, when his choices and actions in life show that he’s his own worst enemy. It’s not other people’s fault that he turned out to be such a loser.

There are other things that show that Jahkor is a selfish jerk, such as how he mistreats and degrades Shantaye about something she did in her past before she met him. Jahkor also has a disturbingly violent reaction after he meets his mother’s new boyfriend Ray Ray (played by John Que), who was nice enough to bail Jahkor out of jail without even knowing Jahkor. The movie hints that Jahkor might have inherited the mental illness his father has, but at the very least, Jahkor has serious anger management issues. His violent abusiveness is supposed to make him look “tough,” but it just makes him look hateful.

It comes as no surprise that Jahkor ends up quitting his job at the shoe store and becomes more involved with his friend TQ’s criminal activities. At first, Jahkor swears that he won’t get involved in drug dealing, but he changes his mind when he wants to impress the hotshot drug dealer in the ‘hood named Big Stunna (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who hires Jahkor to be his bodyguard/enforcer. Even though Jahkor is not muscular, he has a quick temper and has a reputation for being a vicious fighter. Big Stunna has a female sidekick named La-Trice (played by Rolanda D. Bell), who essentially does what all the African American women in this movie do: Let the men dominate and then react to whatever they want.

The rest of the movie shows why Jahkor committed the murders (he volunteered to do it) and there’s somewhat of a twist toward the end that reveals someone’s ulterior motive for the crime. There are some prison scenes where JD tries to give Jahkor advice on how to survive in the prison. And there’s also an almost laughable scene where Jahkor and JD are in the prison yard, and Jahkor tries to bond with JD by getting his father to some gardening in the yard with him. It’s completely unrealistic that this prison would allow a convicted murderer like Jahkor to have a sharp instrument like a gardening tool in the middle of a prison yard.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of violence in “A Day and a Night” and constant use of the “n” word and other cursing. All of the actors, except for Wright, are relatively unknown to mainstream audiences, so it’s easy to see why they jumped at the chance to work on a movie that was written and directed by someone who co-wrote the mega-successful “Black Panther.” Wright is an excellent actor, but this was clearly a “paycheck” movie for him, since there’s no depth at all to the JD character, who’s a typical abusive thug. Abdul-Mateen’s career is on the rise (he has the role of Black Mantis in DC Comics movies), but so far, he’s mostly known for playing villainous characters in movies.

And the racist stereotyping isn’t just for the black people in the movie. The few white people who are in the film have small speaking roles, and they are portrayed in unflattering ways. There’s the racist store customer who’s afraid of dealing with Jahkor. There’s the young teacher who thinks she’s being a “white savior” by teaching in a predominantly African American school. There’s the young co-worker at the shoe store who talks like she’s a wannabe street gangster, but she really lives in an affluent white neighborhood. And there’s the overzealous cop who resents that Jahkor and TQ were driving in that white neighborhood. (Jahkor and TQ were in the neighborhood because it was Jahkor’s idea to follow that co-worker to her home. Very creepy.)

Aside from being annoyingly derivative, the biggest problem with “All Day and a Night” is that the movie doesn’t even have a protagonist that people will root for in a big way. The movie tries to make Jakhor sympathetic, when he’s in prison and cries on the phone about how he doesn’t want his son to see him in prison. Well, it’s a little too late for that, since Jahkor has a life sentence, and he volunteered to committed the murders when he knew that he was going to be a father.

There’s a flashback scene that takes place after Jahkor committed the murders, when he suddenly shows up at Shantaye’s home, looking anxious with the two guns he used in the crime. Jahkor won’t tell a suspicious and pregnant Shantaye what he did and why he has those guns, but he asks her to keep the guns. He also takes the cash that he was paid for the crime and hides it in Shantaye’s couch, presumably for Shantay to find later and to use as child-support money. But it’s blood money, so using it for child-support payments really doesn’t show any redemption on Jahkor’s part, and it definitely doesn’t justify the ruthless way that he gunned down two people in front of their child.

You have to wonder why these mediocre-to-awful African American gangster movies, which are usually financed by an all-white or predominantly white team of producers, keep getting made, when there are so many more interesting and original stories about African Americans that can be told. Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee, who is widely considered to be the most influential African American filmmaker of all time, is respected by other filmmakers because he doesn’t make the same type of movie over and over. The African American protagonists in his movies usually aren’t criminals, just like most African Americans in real life aren’t criminals. Lee is an example of an African American filmmaker who understands that there is more to realistic African American stories than just depicting the main characters as criminals.

If you want to see a better and more accurate representation of modern African American culture in a Netflix drama that was released around the same time as “All Day and a Night,” check out the far superior and more original “Uncorked,” which is about a young, law-abiding African American man who aspires to be a master sommelier.

“All Day and a Night” would have been a more interesting film if it had made Lamark the protagonist, since it’s rare to have a movie that shows an African American war veteran as the lead character. (Spike Lee has done it with “Da 5 Bloods.”) “All Day and a Night” is writer/director Cole’s second movie as a director, so maybe his next movies that he writes and directs will show that he can come up with more original ideas and less degrading stories than this one.

Netflix premiered “All Day and a Night” on May 1, 2020.