An Open Letter to Spike Lee

An Open Letter to Spike Lee

By Sylvia D. Snowden

Dear Spike,

You released your movie “Chiraq” recently and unsurprisingly, not much has changed.  Young kids are still carrying guns and killing each other in Chicago’s streets.  But you had to know your life wasn’t really going to help anything around here, right?

Ok, so, no, the movie was not an abject failure; Chiraq was entertaining, had several bright spots and was a pretty decent adaptation of a Shakespearian classic.  And I’ll tell you what else; I honestly think your heart was in the right place on this one.  I really think you thought this film would help to curb Chicago’s gun violence problem.  That said though, Chiraq is to Chicago Violence what “Just Say No” was to the war on drugs.  It was a nice try, but it was evident that the concept was conceived by someone who was completely oblivious to the real issue.

What do I mean? Well, I read an Esquire article by Tom Junod about mass shootings. He was trying to figure out who committed such murders and why.  One of the things Junod discovered is that mass shooters tend to be people who feel like nobody.  They feel ignored, marginalized by society, forgotten about and aggrieved.  And people like that grab guns and kill people because they’ve decided they’d rather be infamous than be ignored.  Does that sound remotely familiar to you?

I mean, you said it yourself in the film, Spike, many of the young people in areas like Englewood, “The Wild Hundreds,” and “Terror Town” have had their homes demolished, they’ve had their families scattered, they’ve had their schools closed and they’ve had their social service programs cut.

Some of these kids have lost parents to violence or incarceration and others have been personally harassed by the cops.  So don’t you think they might feel marginalized, ignored and overlooked? Don’t you think they want someone to see their plights and rescue them before it’s too late?

But let’s be real Spike, you know about the streets, that sort of preemptive help rarely ever comes. So, out of fear and sheer desperation, they go ahead and pick up a weapon, and wouldn’t you know it, all of a sudden, everyone can see them.

International media publications like The Guardian finally see them; they publish stories about their violent lives and tragic deaths on a regular basis.  Major record labels like Interscope can see them, too; they reward young children toting Glock 40s and posing for photos with AK 47s with multi-million dollar record deals.  They keep shooting long enough and guess what Spike?  Now you finally see them.  You make a movie about them, their neighborhood and their world.  You even validate their neighborhoods’ nickname by calling the film “Chiraq.”

So, keeping all of this in perspective, how could you ever expect Chiraq to encourage young kids to put the guns down?  Part of the reason why they’re so violent is because they want recognition and validation in the worst type of way, and now, thanks to films like Chiraq, they have it.  Their neighborhood–the part of the city everyone tries their hardest to avoid and ignore–is finally being seen by the world.

Those are their friends you’ve memorialized, their blocks you captured, and their stories you’ve brought to life on the big screen.  And it’s all because they’ve picked up a gun. So now, can you see what you did? Instead of doing “the right thing,” you “gave guns to the Indians.”

And like I said before, I know you were trying to help.

I appreciated the message that everyone—from the mothers of the community, to the reformed banger, to the church—has a role to play in stopping the violence. I also loved your not-so-subtle suggestion that our politicians care more about their re-elections than they do the revitalization of their neighborhoods.

But what I think you forgot is that for these young, marginalized kids, a gun is so much more than an object of destruction; it represents the only power, respect and personhood some of them will ever know.  And making a movie about the shooters (as opposed to, you know, the kids in Englewood who obtained power and respect without weapons), only reinforces the idea that maybe they’ve done something right, because they got your attention.

And don’t misunderstand me, Mr. Lee.  I’m not blaming you; you can’t solve a problem you didn’t cause.  I’m just trying to explain how this may have exasperated, and not solved the issue.

So, you know, thanks for trying.

I guess.



Follow Sylvia on Twitter @TrulySylvia

Follow Sylvia on Twitter @TrulySylvia

Sylvia D. Snowden is a fabulous Chicago-based journalist, read more about her on Follow Sylvia on Twitter @TrulySylvia.

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