The SAG ensemble nominee joined The Awardist podcast to talk the Best Picture hopeful and his scene-stealing performance.

By Clarissa Cruz
March 22, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT

The Trial of the Chicago 7

  • Movie

It's no easy feat to stand out among the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, and Frank Langella. But in Aaron Sorkin's Best Picture hopeful The Trial of the Chicago 7, it's Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who adds an emotional heft to the SAG-nominated ensemble. As Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale — who was charged, along with seven others, with trying to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention; his case was eventually declared a mistrial — Abdul-Mateen's performance hinges on the tension between his character's outspokenness and the court's attempts to silence him.

"They could take away his voice but they could not take away his humanity and his dignity, and that's what I was fighting for throughout the entire film," the Emmy-winning Watchmen star, 34, says on EW's latest Awardist podcast. "Dignity and the ability to say I am a man, I am a human being, I am a citizen of the United States and I deserve all of the rights that are afforded to me. And it is not within the power of another man another human to take that away from me."

The Trial of the Chicago 7
Credit: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX

Nowhere is that more apparent than in a pivotal scene where Seale is bound and gagged by order of the court — which happened to be filmed on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. "It wasn't something that was planned," says Abdul-Mateen, who will next be seen in the Candyman reboot in August and Matrix 4 in December. "I take that as a gift as a gift from Fred Hampton, a gift from the gods that said hey you're in an important moment in history right now, you're in an important moment in storytelling."

It's not a responsibility he takes lightly. "[I want] to use my art to speak to the things that I value…human rights, freedom of expression and making sure that we tell stories that reveal black people as complete humans. That we should be able to live in the world of The Matrix, of Candyman, of Aquaman, The Trial of the Chicago 7," he says. "The throughline is about freedom."

Watch highlights of our conversation at the top of this post, or listen to the full conversation in the podcast link above. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is streaming on Netflix.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

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The Trial of the Chicago 7

  • Movie
  • Aaron Sorkin