Filmmaker Spike Lee has devoted his career to making socially conscious films examining race relations and urban issues. Lee’s upcoming film, “Chi-raq,” set to be released Dec. 4, is a fictional tale about the gang and gun violence plaguing Chicago’s South and West Sides. Set in the Englewood neighborhood, the story is based on the Greek play “Lysistrata,” by Aristophanes, in which women withhold sex from their husbands to force them to peacefully end the Peloponnesian War.
“Chi-raq’s” two-and-a-half minute trailer, released Nov. 3, suggests we have little to look forward to in the way of a serious discussion of gang violence.
Early scenes show Samuel L. Jackson, who looks into the camera and cheerfully says, “Welcome to Chi-raq, the land of pain, misery and strife.” Throughout the trailer, Jackson’s character is presented with a skip in his step and a smile on his face.
Teyonah Parris plays Lysistrata, a young woman who rallies her friends and neighbors to deny sex to their gang-affiliated lovers to “make sure these fools put down these guns.” At one point, a man is shown at a nightclub proclaiming, “The situation is out of control because I am in front of an empty stripper pole.”
Such scenes furnish little hope the movie will actually portray the devastating conditions in Englewood and on the South Side accurately and in a manner that resonates with viewers.
The film drew criticism from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city officials who have cited concerns it could hurt Chicago’s tourism and international image.
Between the NFL Draft, the Cubs playoff run and Giuliana Rancic’s Instagram account, the city’s tourism will likely remain stable, but the real issue is not about tourism, nor is it about how the film could hurt Chicago’s worldwide reputation.
This is about 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee, who was shot and killed on the South Side hours after the trailer was released. This is about the 2,582 Chicagoans who have been shot and the 434 homicides in 2015 as of press time. This is about how systematic racism, gentrification and failing inner city schools ensure it will take more than “taking away guns,” as the girlfriends in the trailer say, to reduce the endless cycle of gang and gun violence that is painfully—and disproportionately—more prevalent in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
The only glimmer of hope for some serious dialogue occurs in the second half of the trailer, which shows glimpses of a Black Lives Matter march, anti-gun violence protests and funerals.
The presentation of the topic of Chicago’s gun violence in the trailer is clearly an artistic attempt at making a complex issue digestible for Lee’s worldwide audience that does not see daily headlines on their local news about how many were shot overnight. However, the misguided idea that the root of “Chi-raq’s” violence is gun accessibility and the trailer’s constant comedic relief make it difficult to believe the movie will be as enlightening, informative or meaningful as it could be.