Earlier this month, Academy Award-winning director Spike Lee released a trailer for his upcoming film “Chi-Raq.”
When I first heard that Lee was writing and directing this film, I was very ambivalent.
I grew up on the south side of Chicago watching Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” and “School Daze.”
A part of me thought he could portray Chicago’s south side with justice, unlike many local and national news stations; yet Lee naming the film “Chi-Raq” is unsettling to me.
Chicago’s murder rate has neither been equal nor close to the amount of murders in Iraq’s war zone, yet many non-Chicagoans still insist on comparing the city to Iraq.
In 2014, there were 459 murders in Chicago, while more than 17,000 people were murdered in Iraq, according to Chicago’s local ABC station. Chicago’s murder rate has been cut in half since 1991 while the amount of murders in Iraq has doubled year to year.
Chicago is no Iraq.
Despite my initial thoughts, I held on to hope that Lee could show the world an authentic version of Chicago’s south side.
But the trailer for the film has already proved me wrong.
Though the numbers are smaller than Iraq, I still believe Chicago’s murder rate is staggering and should be taken seriously. But how seriously can the film be taken when Lee based “Chi-Raq” on the Greek comedy, “Lysistrata.”
“Lysistrata,” a play written by Aristophanes in 411 B.C., is about an Athenian woman who persuaded women in her community to withhold sex from their husbands in order to persuade them to end the Peloponnesian War.
While I enjoy the idea that women withholding sex from their partners can have the power to end a war, I don’t see that ringing true in the real world, and especially not in Chicago.
In addition to the ridiculous basis for the film, the only thing that reminded me of home in the trailer was the actual city itself.
Familiar Chicago Transit Authority trains zoomed through the trailer with characters that were completely unfamiliar.
From main character Teyonah Parris’ purple outfit signifying belonging to a gang in Chicago to La La Anthony saying, “Bang bang,” without an ounce of a Chicago accent, the characters in the trailer failed to embody the citizens of Chicago’s south side that I know.
After receiving much deserved backlash for the first “Chi-Raq” trailer, Lee released a short video of him explaining that “Chi-Raq” is not a comedy, but a satire.
While consistently calling the city “Chi-Raq,” he focused on how this film was made to represent gun violence in Chicago respectfully, yet failed to speak on the mass criticism of the trailer’s failure to portray the characters in a believable way.
If “Chi-Raq” was planned to be a humorous film, the least it could be is true to the lives that millions of Chicagoans live every day.
Unless the film plans on tackling the socio-economic reasons why the south side is plagued with violence instead of showcasing it as an unrealistic satire, I’d rather not see “Chi-Raq” at all.