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Clumsy or Genius? Spike Lee’s take on Chicago’s Violence

11 Nov 2015

Spike Lee has released an official trailer for his latest offering, Chiraq. Distribution rights have been given to Amazon, who will be releasing this film at the start of next month in the US.

Chiraq is an adaptation of a comedy by ancient Greek playwright, Aristophanes. The original play, Lysistrata is one of the earliest works of art commenting on sexual relationships dating back to ancient Greece. In response to the on-going Peloponnesian War, the women of Greece come together in a bid to deny their husbands any sexual privileges until they wise up enough to stop fighting.

Set in Englewood, Chicago, Spike Lee spruces up this storyline in a stylish, up-tempo, Samuel L Jackson-led reflection of this particular part of Chi Town’s notorious black-on-black gun culture. The cast is comprised of Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, John Cusack, Nick Cannon and Amanda Bassett.
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Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 20.31.29The trailer release last week has been met with mixed enthusiasm. Lee has been put on blast for several reasons. He has been accused of turning this ugly side of Chicago into a “Blaxpoliation Greek slam poem chopped with a little Kanye West muted colour music.” Many opposed the concept Lee portrays in implying that if these black women closed their legs, these senseless killings would stop. Propelling black female bodies into the forefront of an issue predominately taking the lives of young black males seems to serve as a tool to distract and detract from the core of the real problem for the sake of entertainment.

It feels as though the story of Lysistrata was clumsily adapted to tell the narrative of this reality. Hip hop has long had an affiliation with adapting and recreating classics (like Nas’ quite relevant ‘Got Urself a Gun’, taken from Alabama 3, Jay-Z’s ‘Hard Knock Life’ from the Annie soundtrack, Pharcyde’s ‘Runnin” which involved a slick sample of jazz saxophonist, Stan Getz – the list could go on) but judging from first impressions, Lee might have tried to shove this realism into an ill-fitting glove.

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From the trailer we can see that irony and comedic elements are the avenues used to deliver Lee’s latest creative social commentary. But it seems that it may have all been in bad taste. He’s managed to piss of some of the Chicago community, including rapper and politician, Rhymefest. Apparently, Spike Lee “owes Chicago an apology” for attempting to write their story without including them in the process of creating the narrative.

But two things to note: 1. From the horse’s mouth himself, the film is a satire and not a comedy – it is inspired by true events, but it uses exaggeration and irony as a way of commenting on the sad truth about Chi Town. And 2. All that’s been released is a trailer. This may not be enough to save his skin, but I’m not about the premature censorship of art that raises important questions, because you never know how it’s going to play out. However, Spike Lee has managed to already make some unsavoury first impressions. It also seems a bit suspicious that the latest Spike Lee Joint was filmed in secrecy and without any involvement from the community at the heart of this sensitive subject. Furthermore, this is the same man who publicly went on a rant about gentrification of his own hometown of Brooklyn, pointing the finger at those contributing to the fast-spreading “Christopher Columbus Syndrome” (as he himself called it). We still don’t know whether the proceeds of the film will go toward helping Chicago, but if Lee doesn’t redeem himself, he could be accused of having contracted the same shady syndrome.

Chiraq is out in the US on 4th December. I’ll be sipping my tea and patiently waiting for the UK release.