My 8th grade history teacher once said, upon teaching about an earthquake that occurred in the Philippines, that “when one person dies it is a tragedy, when 100 people die it is a statistic.” While this is a fairly dark statement for a middle school teacher to make, it has always stuck with me and unfortunately has proven to be true the more I come to understand the world. The death of a few people in a particular tragedy seems to always attract more grief and widespread condolences than an event were many people die. This might have to do with people being able to see themselves in one or two people but not in fifty or more*, so when a mass murder or deaths happen most people cannot even come to envision themselves or their loved ones in that tragic situation.
In the case of the movies we just watched, both 4 Little Girls and Chi-Raq are centered around tragic deaths; however, one movie is made clearly to evoke tears and the other is more nuanced in its approach because of the element of satire. It is not that I think Spike Lee does not want the audience to cry while watching 4 Little Girls and not during Chi-Raq, but one the strategy in presentation of the murders is different. In the beginning of Chi-Raq the viewer is shown statistics on the screen that compare the number of deaths in Chicago to those in the Middle East since 2002. There have been so many people murdered in Chicago that the viewer upon seeing those numbers does not even really get a chance to let them soak in. The number is almost too large to be comprehensible, and because of this the audience begins the film with a different mentality than 4 Little Girls. My theory for this is that four deaths is easier to swallow and immediately emphasize with than 7,000+. It was interesting to hear the class discussion after both films because while they both center around murder and the loss of Black life, one conversation was outwardly more grievous than the other. I wonder if Spike Lee had that in mind while making Chi-Raq after 4 Little Girls, or if even he himself could not swallow the amount of murders that happen in Chicago and turn the epidemic into something other than a satire, and also why he chose to focus the main plot of the movie on the murder of one little girl.
*That was an arbitrary number to prove a point. In no way am I trying to quantify the importance of life or what should be considered a “mass murder.” I just picked a number substantial higher than two to illustrate a difference in how people might respond in a given tragedy. All life is important.