Spike Lee's Chi-Raq Bamboozles

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By Hermene D. Hartman

I wish I knew one word to describe Spike Lee’s new movie Chi-Raq, but I don’t. It is a little documentary, as it opens with statistics of the killings in Chicago outnumbering those of the real wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is a lot of reality show. It is social/political satire. It is stereotypical and it is the new real. It is hip hop. It offends and fully displays a youth culture that suffers from violent lifestyles that include young men living with gunshot wounds that have left them paralyzed in wheel chairs or in caskets.

The star of the movie is sex. It is raw. Spike takes sex and makes it a weapon. The gangbangers are fighting. They are killing the children on the South Side of Chicago, for no apparent reason. Many of the children seen on the protest signs are children who have really been murdered in the streets and their suffering mothers. There is one scene where Jennifer Hudson plays a mother who has lost her 10-year-old little girl, and she is scrubbing her daughter’s blood off the sidewalk. It is a real scene.

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Teyonah Parris

Nick Cannon is excellent in his role as a gang chieftain named Chi-Raq; his foes are a gang who wear orange called the Trojans. He is also a rapper and a shooting takes place in the club where he is performing.

Chi-Raq’s girlfriend, Teyonah Parrisfrom the movie Dear White People, plays Lysistrata, named after the Greek heroine on which this movie is based. She comes up with the idea of withholding sex from the gangsters to get them to stop the shootings. The gang rivalry is everyday life for young Black men in the hood with no jobs and nowhere to go.

Spike’s creativity comes from a Greek mythology line where the original Lysistrata convinced the women of the time to withhold sex from their men to help end the Peloponnesian War. Spike has updated it to contemporary Chicago and the Englewood community.

The church scenes are actually filmed in St. Sabina church and feature a character based on Father Michael Pfleger, who is an authentic voice in Chicago who is constantly fighting against the violence in his neighborhood. The best scenes are with the firm words of sincerity where John Cusackportrays Father Pfleger.

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John Cusack

The old pimp-like hipster played by Samuel Jacksonnarrates the story. He pulls it together. The scenes range from graphic to absurd.

An old White guy with Confederate flag decorated briefs straddles a shooting cannon in the Armory, interjecting humor of some kind, with all of the stereotypes flaming. And Chicago’s mayor, a Rich Daley type, coming home marching up the staircase in his Egyptian pharaoh costume straight to the bedroom looking like a Halloween character is absurd.

After three months of forced sexual abstinence, the men in Chicago, including the mayor, are suffering from the blue ball syndrome and women all over the world join the no-sex movement.

Everyone wants to tame the men. The gang leader comes to his woman for a truce. He confronts her with a sex match, just like a boxing match, with a bed in the ring. Some of the scenes are too long as the point exaggerates.

Spike raises the right issues, which is the violence in the community, and focuses in on the wasted unproductive lives of the gangbangers and the shattered lives of the mothers and others. Some of the dialogue is in rhyme, which takes away from the dramatic, but I guess appeals to the hip hoppers. The satire, however, diminishes the gravity. The social outrage is clear.

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Jennifer Hudson

Spike is a marketing genius. This movie has been the talk of the town since its inception. The politicos helped promote the movie as they challenged the name. They made the controversy much more than it should be, when they could have spent their time better in vetting city executives. The movie is in the theaters, as national news reports on the police killing of Laquan McDonald. How ironic.

Chi-Raq is not one of Spike’s better movies. It will be one of his most controversial. The acting is fine with Samuel Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, and Nick Cannon. The film will generate major discussion between Blacks and Whites and most of all inter-generational.

This is not a movie for the prim and proper. It is edgy and straight from the hood. It is what young Black urban America has become. In some quarters it is shameful, in some it is whatever, and in some, it is why can’t we do better. It tells the tale of broken lives.

Spike bamboozled us.

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