–written by Caleb Hamernick @calebhamernick
Chiraq is a beautifully scripted masterpiece that alienates and further marginalizes issues on the South Side of Chicago. One could argue that it's goal was to spark conversation regarding the topic of violence and injustice on the South Side, but so would any movie that "dared" to take on a topic of this form. I'm writing this in response to the vehicle in which Spike Lee chose to address the violence in black communities on the South Side.
The original theatrical trailer for the film :
As I watch the film I felt like I wanted to have a red pen out and the script in front of me to begin sending this film to its second draft. What had beautiful writing, dialogue, and cinematography turned quickly to a problematic juxtaposition of a mourning mother scrubbing her daughter’s blood and making jokes about sex hungry men who are literally going insane. (Reference the cross eyed black soldier reciting "booty booty booty booty in the latter third of the film).
If one has ever witnessed a shooting and the pool of blood that remains, you will seldom find a mother sobbing as she scrubs at an alley floor and begin pushing away the red bubbles frantically.
Instead, usually nothing is said, at least not aloud. The scene felt as if to pander to an exaggerated maternal instinct within us rather than addressing reality–a community’s palpable indifference due to expectation and pattern. That stain will be there for the next 2 weeks or so as it begins its journey from a vivid bright red, then brown, then blackish brown as it fades into the pavement.
Spike Lee said he intends to save lives and address issues of violence on the South Side in this film. Problem is, it only addresses one angle of violence on the South Side. The old platitude was stuck racing in my mind, It's not what you say, it's how you say it.
Here we have an entire community that struggles with what the world sees in Black men and the characters displayed are "thugs", rappers, bible thumping baptists, sex hungry Farrakhan followers (my assumption), and a dated version of a pimp narrating the story. Where are the business owners, the community leaders, the artists? Lysistrata is an already problematic myth regarding gender power within their subsequent roles. There are many myths and stories we could beautifully tell with the setting of Chicago, but Lysistrata?
Police brutality was barely touched upon and yet it is also one of the biggest issues the South Side faces. Having a racist old white man mount a canon while ranting on with jungle fever hardly addresses the racism and psychology of the school to prison pipeline behind our cops and our young Black men in Chicago. This image is distracting from the modern day racism ingrained in today's police force. Why no scenes of police pulling over random Black men? Those men having been trained in the art of being harassed, spread their legs with their arms up and against the nearest wall accordingly, lest they become the next Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice–the list is endless.
The thing that shook me the most however was not on screen but rather who was to my left and right in the theater. An empty theater for a movie about the South Side of Chicago is indicative of how much people care about issues on the South Side of Chicago. We’re in peak blockbuster season with the latest in the Star Wars saga and Tarantino films sure to welcome sold out shows and long lines. Even with all the controversy in this film, Chiraq, and films like it, are a necessity.
Boycotting a film because you don't like the title is about as asinine as boycotting Star Wars because you don't like the projection of war happening in space.
Chiraq was nothing short of a love story within the larger topics. Love story? With two black leads? Sign me up. The accentuated love between two black characters in a major motion film is a rarity and should be praised. The dynamic between Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) and Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) was clear and concise, both retaining a power position that exists outside the norms of relationships we see today.
The run and gun style of addressing issues pertaining to the South Side, though not fully fleshed out, were still brought to light and with accuracy. The Black lives life insurance salesman, modern day slave ship comparison of our prison system, being afraid to come forward with information for crimes committed, the sound of gunfire in the background as if on a timer, and much more.
It’s worth a second watch, if not to enjoy, then in order to learn.