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