The Southside Economic Development Project
The Southside Economic Development Project
The Southside Economic Development Project.
When I heard Spike Lee was making a film called “Chiraq,” I immediately thought it would be a documentary, perhaps a drama, but not a comedy.
I had a chance to view the film at the end of the Revolt Music Conference in Miami, Florida, which included a screening of “Chiraq” (also called “Chi-Raq”), hosted by Lee at the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Complex.
The film’s title is a combination of “Chicago” and “Iraq,” characterizing the city’s South Side as a war zone because of its high crime rates. The film opens with shocking statistics, stating that Chicago is not Chicago if the city’s murder rate is higher than the murder rate in Iraq.
Lee insists the film is not a musical, but in true Grecian comedy form, it is comprised of song and dance. “Chiraq“ is a modern-day adaption of the ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata“ by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago.
Spike Lee took a satirical spin on the anguish of gun violence in Chicago and challenged the audience during the screening, saying, “We know the history of police brutality against African Americans, but this film is showing what African Americans are doing to themselves, what black-on-black violence is doing to our communities, it is an act of self-inflicted genocide.”
“Chiraq” has a star-studded cast with Samuel L. Jackson, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Dave Chappelle, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Steve Harris, La La Anthony, Jennifer Hudson, and Nick Cannon like we’ve never seen him as a hotheaded gangsta rapper from Chicago’s South Side.
The criticism lies in the casting of Cannon as a gangsta rapper. Why not an up-and-coming actor, established gangsta rapper or even a Chicagoan to play the role to ensure authenticity? Cannon’s acting seems learned and not genuine.
Lee’s cinematography invokes fear and a sense of urgency; it is an outcry for help in Chicago communities.
Some audience members voiced their outrage with Lee’s depiction of black men in the film. Lee remained calm under fire and said, “I believe this movie will cause change, art can change the world.”
By Ashlee C. Jordan
Southside Economic Development Project.
Strawberry Mansion High School, where 94 security cameras line the hallways and metal detectors are posted at every door, was once considered one of the most dangerous schools in the country.
Located in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood with a high crime rate, Strawberry Mansion consistently appeared on Pennsylvania’s “Persistently Dangerous Schools” list.
But for the first time in six years, that’s no longer the case.
“We’re off the ‘Persistently Dangerous’ list. We’re very happy about that,” said Principal Linda Cliatt-Wayman. “So we know we have a system in place that can curtail the violence. We know that.”
But after the special, a tidal wave of generosity from viewers helped breathe new life into Strawberry Mansion. Money donated by viewers helped to pay for school uniforms and to provide 13 scholarships for seniors heading off to college, as well as basic necessities that were missing at Strawberry Mansion, including books, notebooks and calculators.
It is a school that is still close to the edge. Brutal fights break out at times and citywide budget cuts have made an impact. There are fewer teachers thisyear, and class sizes have doubled. Fewer guards and police patrol the hallways.
There are signs of hope and vitality. For the first time in the school’s 62-year history, it has a football team, the Strawberry Mansion Knights.
“It just reminds people that we’re here and that we’re legitimate and that we’re still a school, we’re still running and we still have a lot to offer to all of our students in this neighborhood, in this community,” said Evan Kramp, who was a new history teacher last year.
Cliatt-Wayman remains dedicated to making Strawberry Mansion a better school. At the Pennsylvania Conference for Women last month, she gave the keynote address, alongside Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright, in which she talked about the struggles at Mansion and said “this nation must invest in the education of all its children, if they are going to remain the wealthiest country on earth.”