Cleo Pendleton, below, is comforted by Rev. Al Sharpton as Spike Lee, second from left, and Nick Cannon, left, listen to her speak during a rally for the prevention of gun violence on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in New York. Pendleton’s daughter, 15, was fatally shot in January as she and her friends shielded themselves from rain under a canopy in a Chicago park in what police say was a case of mistaken identity in a gang turf war. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Spike Lee’s film “Chi-Raq” displays the inadequacies of the American prison system, racist authority figures and Black on Black violence in communities across the United States. However, the motion picture has drawn criticism from various individuals, including Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, for highlighting the negative aspects of the city.
“Chi-Raq” opens nationwide on Dec. 4. The motion picture, based on the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata,” is a satire by Aristophanes, which uses feminine sexuality to solve the mounting homicide rate in Chicago’s south side.
“I understand people being leery of the homicides that continue to plague the south side Chicago,” Lee said during a roundtable discussion with reporters on Nov 20. “People become numb to it, people can’t keep up and therefore, you have a defense mechanism where you’re not going to acknowledge what is happening.”
The director, accompanied by the film’s star actress Teyonah Parris, emphasized that the movie gives people a genuine dose of the reality that young urban Black men and women face in cities across the country.
“By dealing with Chicago, which is the apex of this, you also talk about Bodymore Murderland (Baltimore, Maryland), kill-a-dephia (Philadelphia), D.C., Dodge City, New Orleans, Los Angeles south central, Brooklyn, Bronx — boogie down — but Chicago is the zenith for this,” Lee said.
He said his primary motivation for making a movie and not a documentary was because he felt the culture was best told through satire. Lee has done documentaries before. His 2006 release of “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” told the story of the devastation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina through the resident’s experiences.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, center, and Spike Lee, second from left, lead a march to Times Square for the prevention of gun violence on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in New York, following the premiere of Lee’s new film “Chi-Raq.” (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
“I saw some documentaries about Chicago, what was happening, and a lot of them were glorification of that, especially one done by Vice , so that was not our approach, we didn’t want to glorify that, we didn’t want to make any more gang bangers, that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to do,” he said. Vice Media, which released a documentary called “Welcome to Chiraq” in 2014 did not respond to the AFRO’s request for comment before publication.
Lee’s depiction hits at a racial tension inbred in American society that switches the highly publicized conversation of White on Black violence to Black on Black violence. However, he said his purpose in creating a film on the murder culture in south side Chicago was meant to tell the truth.
“I think that many times in this film, where you even talk about Black Lives Matter, you give the list of black people who’ve been killed by private citizens and cops, but here is where I’d like to expand it,” he said. “I’m in support of Black Lives Matter, at the same time, I’m not going to be silent when a nine year old Tyshawn Lee gets executed after being lured into an ally way, so I don’t think I’m doing Black Lives Matter if I’m only going to talk about the cops and George Zimmerman and not talk about what we are doing to ourselves. It’s even handed. It’s not one or the other.”
Instead, the racy movie, often showing massive spans of nudity, uses feminine sexuality and abstinence as a way to help women fight for the lives of their sons and men.
“It goes global because it is something that is a basic human desire and I think Spike does a great job in giving you and at the same time he is masterful in the way in which he does it,” Parris, the female lead, said. “It is class. The women are using their power by withholding the sex.”
See review of “Chi-Raq” on C1.