Spike Lee's "CHIRAQ"

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Posted Online Sunday, May 17, 2015 9:31 a.m.

CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) - One man was killed and at least 36 other people — including an 81-year-old woman — were wounded in shootings across Chicago between Friday afternoon and early Sunday.
The 81-year-old great-grandmother, Iola Burress, was shot about 5 p.m. Friday, just minutes after viewing the body of her recently deceased daughter at a South Side funeral home.
Iola Burress, 81, survived being shot four times. Her 34-year-old grandson, Sylvester Burress, was also shot in the drive-by attack in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. On Saturday, relatives said Iola Burress had to miss her daughter's funeral.


by Hermene Hartman and David Smallwood.

Spike’s Lee’s movie with the obviously unflattering working title, “CHIRAQ,” has stirred Chicago, making the politicians nervous. The mere mention of the term “Chiraq” has caused political conversation, newspaper columns and radio talk show discussion. Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not like the name and wants Spike to change it.

Fourth Ward Alderman Will Burns – has proposed an ordinance suggesting that Spike not receive a $3 million tax benefit for shooting the film in Chicago.

It’s all publicity for Lee’s movie that money could never buy. A mere proposed movie title has provoked elevated discussion, which advances public relations about the film – before the movie is even shot and while the script is still being written!

This free pre-press adds to Spike’s operating budget and might even make it easier for him to fund and distribute his film, which he always has problems doing. Spike could sell standing-room-only tickets right now for the premiere. He must be smiling broadly.

Spike held a press conference last week at Father Michael Pfleger’s St. Sabina Catholic Church. I attended and watched the news coverage carefully. News, indeed, was generated, but I’m not sure that the public at large understands the filmmaker.

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Who is Spike Lee?

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Spike has produced 35 films.

Who Is Spike Lee?
According to Wikipedia, Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor whose production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983.

He has twice been nominated for Academy Awards – for Best Screenplay for his 1989 movie Do The Right Thing, and Best Documentary for his 1997 feature 4 Little Girls. The year he was nominated for Do The Right Thing, Driving Miss Daisy won for Best Picture.

Talk about opposite perspectives on race – that was a real commentary on American society; a real comment on imagery of Black America, stating that Hollywood was more comfortable with the stereotypical image of the Black male servant than the confrontational Black male.

Lee’s movie Malcolm X also provoked challenges. The movie about the controversial Black Muslim leader should have won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Denzel Washington, who portrayed Malcolm, should have won for Best Actor.

Spike’s film Crooklyn, which was about race relations in New York’s Brooklyn community, received similar pre-movie criticism from New York’s power elite as CHIRAQ is getting in Chicago. New Yorkers suggested the film would cause race riots and possible lost of election for local politicians.

I highly doubt that anyone outside of New York gave the title Crooklyn much consideration one way or the other. But it goes to show that Spike is familiar with the territory.

Lee is not the typical Hollywood producer and though he is a tried-and-true New York guy, he is also the Black guy. He discusses racial issues provocatively. He forces you to think. He is not the comfortable guy producing smiley faces and i-heart this or that. He goes against the grain of the stereotype and is authentic.

He and Woody Allen are kin in their cultural philosophical views as they go deep in presenting authentic lifestyles on the screen. Spike writes about contemporary issues that others do not dare to approach.

He examines race relations, race issues, and racial controversy. He looks at “colorism” among African Americans that has its own peculiarity, that spawns deeply rooted internal discussions that non-Blacks may not even grasp.

Lee is from Atlanta and is steeped in Black culture and intellectualism via his parents. He attended Morehouse, the same school Dr. Martin Like King graduated from. His mother taught Black literature and his father was a jazz musician and composer. Their household probably had lively discussions on Blackness on Saturday nights and at Sunday dinners.

Spike’s first movie was in 1985, when he shot She’s Gotta Have It with an impossible budget of $175,000 in two weeks. It grossed over $7 million at the box office. A producer was born. The focus of any movie for the filmmaker is the art, but for the producer, it is all about the box office.

Spike has opened the door for many Black thespians that have gone on to become mainstream movie stars. He has a Black sensibility and a Black intellect. In some quarters this is good, but it is definitely not the Hollywood norm. This is what makes Spike most interesting, and perhaps, this is what makes the politicos nervous. He is not a Negro that you can control; he is not a minion.

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Spike in Chicago . .

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Spike attended Morehouse College.

Young Black men in urban America today live in a danger zone as they go about their daily activities. The killing of young Black men by policemen is a longstanding tradition in America, and little is said until it is exposed by some bystander’s camera and then the mainstream news coverage goes non-stop.

But though we have our share of those unfortunate confrontations, that’s not what Spike’s CHIRAQ is about. We have a different problem – namely that Black people being murdered and wounded in Chicago is out of control and has been for years.

Unfortunately, the Chicago Sun-Times post that opens this article is too representative of what occurs in this city on a regular basis and which the media tabulates and reports like a scorecard. The cameras roll from the scene of the crime or at the hospital where someone is pronounced dead.

The overwhelming majority of this violence and mayhem involves Black-on-Black crime. And the fear ramps up in our war zone communities when the weather gets warm like it’s starting to be now.

In 2008, Chicago reported 511 murders. In 2013, Chicago reported 532 murders. At the press conference with Spike, Father Pfleger mentioned that Chicago is averaging six shootings a day. Younger Black people are shooting and killing each other and Black people of all ages are being caught in the crossfire. Drive-by shootings, even on the expressways now, are becoming rampant.

At the press conference, Father Pfleger presented the mothers of some of the children who have been victims of Chicago violence. One mother said her child was shot at church. She said there were no boundaries. Another mother spoke of her child being shot on the school grounds. Another lost her child on the playground. Another lost her child in front of the house. Another lost her child on the bus.

Another mother spoke of her son, who had been deployed twice to Iraq, but did not die there. But the very week he came home from the war over there, he was gunned down in Chicago just going to the grocery store. These are real stories and the carnage leaves little wonder as to why Chicago has come to considered “ChIraq.”

Chicago’s violence is international news. Why, is the natural question. Why are (mostly young) Black people in Chicago killing each other? Why? These are not police shootings. The Mayor is not doing the shooting. Why is this happening in certain communities, certain zip codes? What is in the culture that is making this violence so rampant?

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Why Not Change the Chicago Dynamic?

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Spike did not create the term Chiraq. Chiraq is what the kids in Englewood call their city.

Why Not Change The Dynamic?
According to the publication Screen Daily, **Spike Lee’s CHIRAQ will be a musical comedy examining gun violence in Chicago that will also be a modern-day re-imagining of the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata. What an artistic rendering this will be.

Lysistrata, in the original Aristophanes story, was a woman who organized the women of Greece to refuse sex with their husbands until the men agreed to end a war they were fighting. Lee’s version is said to center on a woman who goes on a similar mission to curb gang violence in Englewood using some of the same tactics.

Spike is making a movie on a very uncomfortable topic. He comes to Chicago and gets on the ground. He goes directly to the people dealing with this real issue. The name “CHIRAQ” is not Spike’s creation. It is what the kids in the neighborhood call Chicago. The name reflects how people living in Englewood and the other war zones label their parts of the city. This is sad commentary.

Spike will use his artistic talent to explore. He will dramatize the issue, raising the hard questions. He will do what he does best. This will not be a Hollywood movie, though Samuel Jackson, Common, and Jeremy Piven will have roles and Kanye West might do the soundtrack.

Lee will hire people in Chicago. He is already holding casting calls in Black neighborhoods and with Black theater companies. He will put local artists to work. He will put many Chicago people to work in our neighborhoods. The film will be filmed in Englewood and it will spark the Black economy there.

Which brings up an interesting point to all the politicos who are cringing over the movie’s title: if you were to bring the same kinds of economic development to the war zone neighborhoods that Spike Lee is bringing, there would be no CHIRAQ in the first place. How about changing the culture and the economics of the city, Mr. Politician, then the name wouldn’t be a factor; it might never have been bestowed in the first place.

We should let Spike make his move and judge it in the theater. The politicians have a lot of work to do and they should start by staying in their political lanes. Who took the pension money? Improve the schools. Pay the teachers, policemen and firemen. How did the City Council make such a dumb expensive deal with the parking meters?

We don’t elect mayors and aldermen to name movies. Do what you were elected to do. The image of Chicago is everyone’s concern. But we can’t lie about a real problem, even when it’s a movie. Spike Lee’s CHIRAQ may bring light to a serious problem and force us as Chicagoans to look in the mirror. That’s what artists do.
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Filed under: Chicago, Entertainment

Tags: Chicago, CHIRAQ, SPIKE LEE

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