Spike Lee’s Joints isn’t the only class I had the…ahem, pleasure, of watching Chi-Raq. I had to watch it again for Greek Drama after we had read Lysistrata by Aristophanes. As a friendly reminder, Lysistrata is what Chi-Raq is based on. Heck, it’s the play Lysistrata’s (our protagonist) namesake comes from. However, there are glaring differences between Aristophanes’ farce and Spike Lee’s satire.
The use of gender as a vehicle for comedy is the most glaring.
In the traditional Greek theater, all characters on stage were played by men. When men dress as women on the Greek stage, women are amounted to parodies. Lysistrata is a joke of the impossible. Women? Stopping wars? Now that’s a joke. And to be quite honest, the women of Lysistrata do not make a vow to abstain from sex to stop a war.
The women make the vow to have their husbands stop fighting so they can come back to them. The reasons of celibacy is still heavily dependent on the need for a man’s presence. Unlike Chi-Raq where Lysistrata’s anthem of “no peace no pussy” is for more valiant efforts such as protecting young children from the gunfire of gang violence, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata just wants her man back in the house.
How interesting it is, then, for Lee to make an attempt at making a comedy that within it’s very structure pokes fun at the ineptitude of women to create a piece (no pun intended) that has women as the seemingly most motivated characters of his film. Chi-Raq falls short, however, in making a definite line between making a joke of the bodies and minds of black women and crediting their success. It is clear in Lysistrata that women are the punchline (it would have been outrageous in Greek culture for women to have any agency), but in Chi-Raq? Still debatable.