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.

 

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