I’ve said this time and time again, and I’ll say it here. We’ve lost a tremendous sense of imagination in the last 50 years, and I don’t know what its going to take to right the ship at this point. Spike Lee debuted his latest artistic effort last night to scattered crowds in LA, and me and the homies couldn’t have been more excited about it. We all saw the trailer, we heard all the negative reviews, before folks even saw the film mind you, and yet, we still showed up to support a filmmaking icon, who throughout his career has garnered the respect of Hollywood A Listers, and legends like Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson as a great American filmmaker. We showed up out of necessity.
The film opened, and I was face in hand, embarrassed, thinking not again, don’t Red Hook Summer us again Spike, please! And from then on, he did the opposite. The film is a lyrical tale filled with rich theatrics, satire, drama, sex, and that classic Spike artistic direction. So, what’s all the negativity about? Read what folks are saying:
So much respect lost for Spike Lee due to #ChiRaqTheMovie. Systemic racism and centuries of socioeconomic injustice are not punchlines.
— Rahiel Tesfamariam (@RahielT) December 3, 2015
The people that made that shit didn't do so to "Save Lives". It's exploitive and problematic
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) December 4, 2015
When it comes to making movies about the problems in Chicago you can't trust out-of-towners. #ChiRaqTheMovie
— Pharaoh R. El-Aton (@PharaohElAton) December 5, 2015
Now, I don’t have a problem with folks critiquing the film, I have my own personal critiques of the film (opening sequence, soundtrack, Nick Cannon not really smoking, etc.), just how I have critiques of most the movies I see. Watching a movie trailer is to pique an audiences interest, not explain the story in full, and feeling like you understand the entire film based on watching a trailer is like reading a news headline, and claiming that you are informed and can speak intelligently on it.
Rhymefest made some allegations a while back about the politics behind the film, and that the film lacked a real Chicago representation. I appreciated seeing natives like Vic Mensa and Young Chop in the film, and to say that Spike didn’t use natives of Chicago for the movie, is inaccurate and proves once again, how we fail to do proper research and jump to conclusions far too quickly these days. NBC Chicago back in April, published an article where Spike had an open casting call for Illinois residents only. So what now?
The emcee also said that Spike shot the film in the affluent communities and didn’t come to the hood. He’s probably right, and if I was Spike, I wouldn’t put my actors in the middle of an active war zone as a ploy to capture authenticity. I’d try to build that around the casting choices, music choices, and nuances in dialogue. I think on that front, folks will have valid critiques because to them, they can smell an outsider a mile away. However, if you’re looking for a hyper-realistic portrait of present day Chicago, you’re looking for it in the wrong film. This film is a redux of the Greek satire Lysistrata.
The Battle of The Sexes
The tale of Lysistrata by the Greek Aristophanes is the foundational mythos that holds this film together, which explains for the over the top narration, poetic dialogue, picturesque cinematography, and its broadway musical bravado. The tale centers around the idea that during the Peloponnesian War, the women of Greece withheld sex from their men in an effort to stop the war. In Spike’s story, its a war between the Trojans and Spartans, and the women of Chicago rally together and begin their own sex strike, not before they have some serious discussion about the feasibility of such a task.
This is where Spike exceeded my expectations. Upon reading a lot of the comments on the idea of sex strikes during times of war, the criticism was met almost with laughter and dismissiveness as men and women showcased their vast understanding of the female psychology and lack of historical context, to conclude that there is no chance in hell that a sex strike can produce any type of real change. This was such a powerful part of the film because it conjured the spirit of male chauvinism in both the real world and in the film leading to a dramatic Battle of The Sexes with the ultimate prize being SEX and Peace, until then, No Pussy, No Peace! Read the thoughts of folks on the idea of a sex strike.
Also the idea that women abstaining from sex would stop murders is offensive and a slap in the face to any mother that lost a child here
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) December 4, 2015
So a sex strike can stop the violence ????
— Durrell Grove (@Iamdgrove) December 5, 2015
So I ain't really understand the Chiraq trailer until like yesterday. Spike Lee gotta be joking a sex strike? Really
— Blacktivist ✊ (@YOOO_CheckITOut) December 5, 2015
I don’t agree that the idea of a sex strike is offensive to mothers in Chicago at all. And this is how I know that Chance The Rapper didn’t see the movie at the time he wrote it, because if he did, he would know that this wasn’t something Spike just pulled from his ass. The idea stems from a village of women in Liberia who in fact successfully lead a sex strike during the Second Liberian War in 2003. Lead by sister Leymah Gbowee who was later awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her non-violent contributions toward peace building in Liberia. So, if its a successful framework in Liberia, why is it such a far fetched idea here? Because Black folks lack imagination! Watch sister Leymah Gbowee’s powerful testimony on Democracy Now below:
School Daze 2
Spike alluded to the idea of directing another School Daze, and I think this film is the closest he’ll ever get to it. From the contrasting viewpoints of light skinned vs. dark skinned, good and bad hair, to men vs. women, and gang vs. gang, Spike channeled School Daze for this film, even ending the film with his his signature “Wake Up” catch phrase.
If you were a fan of Bree Newsome snatching down the confederate flag in South Carolina, if you spoke out in opposition to Dylan Roof, Darren Wilson, and George Zimmerman, if you understand that prison is a for profit institution that capitalizes on black and brown bodies, and that upward mobility in inner city communities is the real conduit for change, then you will definitely appreciate Chiraq. The film takes this thesis a step further and even provides a modern framework for what that change can look like after a peace treaty has been declared and signed with new hospitals, community revitalization projects, and living wage jobs for every member in the community, provided by the US Government.
If you are a fan of the idea of world peace, then the scenes where women from Brasil, China, Australia, Greece, and countries around the world will speak to you because that’s what this film is ultimately about. It rises above the concrete jungles of Chicago to ask a question about violence in America, and violence abroad, and how female sexuality can play a part in that quest for peace. Its a worthy question to ask despite where you stand in the debate. To dimiss the idea without seeing the film, is to continue to be part of the problem.
I think the crime rates in Chicago and communities around the country have become a great American tragedy. Bloodstained floors and mothers tears of sorrow are not rendered with satire and apathy, they are played out, long and hard. Images of slain victims invite us into the families of the broken hearted to reflect upon. The film tears at our souls, makes us laugh, probes our imagination and makes for dense conversation amongst our social circles after the credits roll. All things you should expect from great art.
Sadly, I see black folks are becoming more and more artistically callous as our major platforms for art, are stained with cultural stereotypes and or saturated with overly sexual, overly masculine, overly serious, and unimaginative portraits of Black life in America.
The idea that satire is not a genre used by the great comedians like Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, Red Foxx, George Carlin, and others to describe the conditions we face in this country, further demonstrate how out of touch with reality we’ve become. To me, that’s much more damaging to a culture and society than a any film ever will be. Maybe after folks actually watch the movie, they’ll Wake Up!