As people who watch films, listen to music, and read books, we are constant consumers of art. As students and critical thinkers, we not only consume, but analyze this art. Something that I’ve noticed is that when critiquing a film, I often wonder about intent.
When I saw the character of Rasheeda in Chi-raq (one of Lysistrata’s companions), I knew she was familiar. It was only after I looked Chi-raq’s cast up that I realized where I had seen the face. Anya Engel-Adams and Spike Lee had collaborated before, on NBA 2k16’s My Career storyline, Livin’ Da Dream. The video game has a mode where players can play out the lives of an up and coming NBA star. For the 2016 version of the game, 2k brought Spike Lee onto the team to enhance the storyline of the game mode.
Our class conversations over the past few weeks, both on Chi-raq and 4 Little Girls, have led me to think deeper about Chi-raq. Before, I felt that my beef with the film was on the grounds of Lee’s intention. Now I feel like more of the film was satire than I gave it credit for—with Chi-raq Lee has come to a point where he feels like there are fewer and fewer ways to get his point across that there are not many options for black people in America. We are past the point of looking to the establishment for help. In some ways, despite its failed satirical aspects (or perhaps because of them), the film reads as a cry for the black community (and America) to turn their eyes to Chicago because there is no way to make sense of what is going on on the South side.
I thought that our conversation in class about Chi-raq essentially being two films was very interesting, and I agree. Perhaps it was because Lee knew that he had to convey the gravity of the situation in Englewood clearly so that all was not lost in the satire. I definitely plan to re-watch this film (even though I’m not necessarily looking forward to it—it was one of the hardest films to watch I’ve encountered this semester), so I can come closer to forming a full opinion on it.
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.
Continue reading “Chi-Raq – Satire? Exploitive? Both? – Part 1”
Malcolm X – An Invisible Man
If I had to give examples of books that radically influenced my perspective of what it means to be a black man in America, I would name Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read Malcolm X first, towards the end of tenth grade. It’s hard for me to describe exactly how reading the novel influenced my relationship to my blackness. I can say this however: I don’t remember having an awareness of race in the United States on any level higher than the micro. I knew of racist people, but not of racist systems or modes. I’d learned about Malcolm X in school, but not much beyond the idea that he “supported violence”.
To me, Malcolm X was the story of a man who defined the term “black man” for himself, and then embodied that to the best of his ability. Invisible Man deals with many of the issues that Malcolm faced, but through a different lens. In both, a central idea is the topic of perception, and what it means to have agency in the way that one is seen by others (and whether or not that is possible). In class, we talked about the image of Malcolm X that was portrayed to the public during the 1960s, and the image that has lived on since then. While Invisible Man dealt mostly with the visual relationship between white and black people, this disconnect between perception and reality exists everywhere.
We don’t like our heroes to be human, and so in a way we categorize even leaders such as Malcolm X. It’s interesting to explore the ways in which our (and Spike Lee’s) perception of history impacts (or doesn’t change) how we view not only Malcolm X and his ideas, but our idea of our past as it relates to how we move forward.
I plan to continue exploring this idea, focusing specifically on Lee’s film, in my next blog post.
Something I’ve often admired in Spike Lee’s films is the way he portrays Brooklyn. As somebody from Brooklyn, I find his depictions of Bed-Stuy to be beautiful. Crooklyn was my first Spike Lee joint. I remember watching it with my mother and siblings, and looking back, I think that my mother insisted on our watching it because it was relatable in many ways.