Chi-Raq – Satire? Exploitive? Both? – Part 1

My first interaction with Spike Lee’s film, Chi-Raq, was through Chance the Rapper’s twitter feed a few months back. The independent Chicago rapper criticized the film, saying that it was exploitive and problematic, and that the premise of the film (that the women of color in the film abstain from sex in order to stop the gun violence) is a “slap in the face to any mother that lost a child”. An avid fan of Chance, I didn’t go into the film with high expectations.

I can think of a scene or two that I very much agreed with the film, and two or three times that I laughed, but if Spike Lee’s goal was to get America to find a better perspective on gun violence in Chicago in the name of finding a solution, he failed. Instead, it seemed to me that he was reverting back to the same respectability politics I’ve seen so many times before in other spaces. I wouldn’t call this film exploitive per se—I thought that it was clear that Lee’s heart was in the film. The emotion of the scene where Irene’s daughter was found shot and killed proved to me that Lee sees this as a real problem, not simply a means to make money. However, I felt that if this film was meant to be satire, it fell completely flat. Not only do the events of the film (and the fact that there was a solution in the end stemming from these events) suggest that it is up to black communities to fix their problems, and only after this happens will people in power work with them—the film takes things a step further by implying that the change within black communities must be acted out by women of color. Although the agency for change is placed in the hands of the women of color, they are also given the sole responsibility for enacting that change.

I’m getting close to the blog post word count limit, so I’ll write a part two in the next few days. In the second part, I’ll talk about why this film failed specifically as a satire, and why I find its basic premises problematic.

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2 thoughts on “Chi-Raq – Satire? Exploitive? Both? – Part 1”

  1. I found myself with a similar reaction to the film. I found it interesting and problematic that the agency was given only to black women to eradicate the problem as well. I guess the only counterpoint would be the example when Chi-raq turns himself in during the ending sequence but that in and of itself was brought on by the women. Similarly to people’s reaction to “Get on the Bus” I just felt that this message is one that people know, this violence is unnecessary and awful and something needs to change but the way Lee went about depicting this doesn’t really offer anything new to this conversation in my opinion. Or if it did, it went over my head?

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  2. Here is a news article from Chicago when the film first came out of Lee stating that he didn’t mean Chi-Raq to be a comedy: http://www.nbcchicago.com/entertainment/spike-lee-speaks-out-after-chiraq-trailer-criticized-341788942.html

    A satire? That is still up in the air for me. But I think this article offers a lens of citizens of Chicago not really feeling Lee, either. Here is quote, however, of Lee defending his film from this news piece:

    “‘In no way shape or form are we not respectful of the situation that is happening in Chi-Raq,’ Lee said. ‘In no way shape or form are we making light of the lives that have been murdered with this senseless violence…Don’t get it twisted. This film is about serious business.'”

    This complicates things for me even more, because I think Lee really doesn’t see how this film could have been offensive. Either 1. I as an audience member have to look more deeply into Lee’s construction of his film to try to find his intent or 2. I must come to a conclusion about what he has done which, personally, I find ill-executed. Another watch of the film, with this critique in mind.

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