After hearing the overwhelming amount of negative feedback that our class had expressed over Spike Lee’s Chiraq, I was reminded of another individual that had a lot to say about the film’s construction.
In the opening minutes of the film, Chiraq performs a concert for a crowded nightclub that disses his rival gang leader, Cyclops. During this sequence, some of you may have recognized a familiar face onstage alongside Nick Cannon as he gets the crowd moving to his instigative track: Vic Mensa. Here’s a screen grab of the native Chi-town rapper (on the left):
Although his character does not make it out of the violent shootout that ensues towards the end of the show, I thought that his brief inclusion in the film, especially in relation to his true-to-life hip hop roots, held some significance. It honestly makes sense; if Spike Lee wished to bring the violent reality of inner-city Chicago to the big screen, he would need to employ at least some life-long natives into the fold — whether for authenticity or just plain support for his ambitious project. However, after viewing the film for himself upon its release, Vic had some less than positive things to say about the film. Here’s an excerpt of his twitter rant:
Vic touches upon the same criticism’s that our class has expressed over the last few weeks since we watched the film, specifically how Lee has wasted an opportunity to tackle real issues in favor of an over-sexualized “minstrel show” akin to Bamboozled. Who’s to say Vic is wrong to feel this way? Clearly, Lee pushes the envelope with this modern take on a classic comedy as a vehicle to discuss the rampant gun, gang, and black-on-black violence of modern day Chicago. But to call this film a disservice is extremely problematic.
This film does not wish to provide solutions or a “game-plan” to fixing Chi-Raq. On the contrary, I would argue that this film works in an opposite direction for a reason. This film recognizes the state of Chicago, where guns continue their lucrative careers in the senseless slaying of black bodies on a regular basis. Lee handles this subject matter with a bold statement of cinematic discourse, one that requires the theatre of expectations to close its curtains in order to allow a constructive dialogue to emerge. In a way, any reaction to this film — whether it be praise or denunciation — represents a crucial step in conceptualizing the tragic state of Chicago. We don’t have to like what we see onscreen, but it doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on the issues at hand.