Future Projects Laced with Past Mistakes

Throughout this semester, I think that the most common misgiving that people have vocalized in regards to Spike Lee is his perception on black women. At best, he engages in bad feminism, and at worst, he hates black women. He does not afford black women the same complexities that he gives men, and he’s more inclined to redefine black masculinity over discussing problems relating to black women. The movies that elicited this response the most were Mo’ Better Blues, School Daze, and his most recent film Chi-Raq, and there were also problems with female representation in Malcolm X and Get On The Bus. Continue reading “Future Projects Laced with Past Mistakes”

Chi-Raq: A failed satire if there ever was one

As Chicago native it’s hard for me to look at any piece of creative work that is inspired/about the city of Chicago without a critical eye. It is my hometown and in my opinion the greatest city on earth. Therefore, when I first heard back in November that Spike Lee was making a movie about the violence in Chicago based on a Greek tragedy I was skeptical, but open minded. I knew that Lee was a cerebral film maker and a lover of the advancement of Black people, so while I was a little nervous about how the project would pan out I still had hope that it would a solid film. A month later the trailer came out and twenty seconds into it I was both appalled and disappointed. It appeared that the movie’s humor and message focused less on all the institutional problems that perpetuate the violence in Chicago and more on a trivial storyline about women using sex to stop (institutional and systemic) violence– yeah, okay.

I have two major issues with the film. The first, is that I think it did very little to highlight and expose the issues for why there is such widespread violence in the city. The second, is that I think its objectification and sexualization of Black women was both over the top and pointless. In summary, I found the whole movie to be inappropriate. There were times were a character, mostly the Father Mike Corridan’s (based on the preacher and activist Father Pfleger) made good points about why the violence was so bad what needed to be done to stop it. In the beginning of the film when Corridan is giving a speech about why little Patti was murdered, he touched upon subjects like how the black market for guns is discriminatory in the neighborhoods it targets, how the lack of affordable housing causes Black families in high concentration of poverty…. etc, and these were all the reasons why the South side was a hotbed for gun violence. This sermon was the most redeeming scene in the movie. It actually informed the viewer on why the violence in Chicago was so bad, and why it needed to stop. The rest of the movie going forward was a serious regression in topic.

I understand that Lee was using satire to make a point. My issue is what point was he trying to make exactly? I feel like the satire in the film achieved nothing in exposure of the systemic violence in a city I love so dearly. I don’t know what contribution this film made to making the lives of those who live in neighborhoods like Back of the Yards, Englewood, Austin, and Woodlawn better. There was a wake up call at the end of the film, reminiscent of School Daze, but what it was about I can’t say. It seemed like the message the film was attempting to portray at times was that Blacks need to start loving and respecting each other more, and that will solve the violence. While more self-love and self-care in the Black community would not hurt, it cannot solve the systemic violence that currently persists. What is happening in Chicago and other urban centers is a the apex of institutional racism that has existed in the American government and its treatment of African Americans since the Emancipation Proclamation. So sorry, Spike, your clever idea about relating the violence of Black men killing other Black to the Peloponnesian war didn’t quite hit the mark. You failed to expose the problem and deliver any real advancement to the people who are constantly being screwed over by this violence.

 

Power of The Gun

The appearance of the “gun” in Chi-Raq is more than just an object but a central character to the film’s politics of power. The arc of the “gun” begins with it’s birth and ends with it’s death. As part of the film’s introduction, audience members view a map of the United States of America constructed by different types of guns; this suggests the “birth” of the gun’s story line, the power it will hold for the film, and foreshadows the violence of not only Chicago, but all of the United States. In Father Mike’s sermon, he states “the gun began [a] professional career,” suggesting its sentience and potential to grow. However, we see the downfall of Gun and his “colleagues” at the very end of the film, a pile of guns sitting on display as the community reaches peace, reminiscent of a mass grave of corpses.

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who is to blame?

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In Chiraq spike lee really focuses in on the conditions of the, urban center of Chicago particularly focusing on gun violence and murder. Throughout the film lee glazes over what actually causes these conditions in the communities where they occur. He sometimes alludes to systematic and institutional racism but never really delves deep into these ideas in the film. Lee then further complicates this idea of responsibility and who or what is to blame for these socio-economic conditions at the end of the film when the main character. Chiraq confesses to committing the accidental murder of Irene’s 11-year-old daughter and in an ending scene he begins to recite the lyrics of a song. As Chiraq walks down the aisle of the church there are praise dancers dancing in white behind him. The lyrics talk about gang and community members making change where they live and taking accountability for their own lives and actions. The significance of the praise dancers dressed in white dancing during his soliloquy is that they are affirming his message. The fact that praise dance is religious and they are dressed in white, a color associated with purity, good energy and cleansing affirms that Chiraq is doing the “right thing”. This sequence says to me that the conditions of Chicago are brought on by the people who live there, themselves as opposed to the conditions of violence and poverty being a result of a system. A system that fails to provide the urban centers of the world with adequate resources and opportunity, and so as a result poverty and violence are spawned. With this movie ending on that note I don’t really know how spike views this influx of violence limited to urban centers. I’m not sure if he deems it the fault of the people who inhabit these spaces or if he alludes is to system that is failing them. So the question that remains to me from the point of view as the audience for this film based on what spike has provided us with, is who is to blame.