So Sunday, after I went off on my little rant about all the tomfoolery over Ayesha Curry’s tweets, I took a break from social media and went with a friend to go check out the new Spike Lee movie, Chi-Raq. When the trailer first debuted last month, the film received a ton of backlash over the title (which I’ll go more into later in this post). Many Chicago natives, including Chance the Rapper, vowed that they would not be supporting the film due to its controversial title and themes highlighting the ongoing gun violence in Chicago.
Let me be the one from Chicago to personally tell you we not supporting this film out here
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) December 4, 2015
Y'all gone tell me to shutup about that "Chi-raq" movie , but I can't have y'all thinking my city is that damn ignorant and simple
— Sister Souljah (@kweenshakur) November 30, 2015
That movie Chi-raq making Chicago look worst that what it really is….
— Tirzaah➰❣ (@TirzahTw) November 30, 2015
*worse (sorry…I’m an editor.)
Don't be that non-Chicagoan telling your Chicago friends, "Chi-raq wasn't that bad."
— Diamond Sharp (@diamonde) December 5, 2015
I’m not from Chi-town, but I am from D-town (Detroit), which is basically Chicago’s favorite cousin (on the mama’s side). Both are predominantly black metropoles in the Midwest with high crime rates and low economic turnaround. So with that being said, I can understand why a film like Chi-Raq would have folk raising eyebrows and cutting hella side-eyes at Lee — it’s a very, VERY touchy subject.
But after seeing the trailer and reading up on what actually inspired the film (it’s a late adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata), I was intrigued to see how Spike was gonna tackle this one. After all, it’s Spike Lee. The same guy who created the renowned classics Do the Right Thing, School Daze, Jungle Fever, She’s Gotta Have It and Crooklyn (just to name a few); all of which artistically yet blatantly address various social, political and/or socioeconomic issues pertaining to the Black community. If you’ve ever watched any of his films, you should be well aware that satire, Black imagery, and repetitive phrases of motivation are Spike’s three main message-drivers. So off this knowledge alone, I already knew I would have to leave my conventional movie-watching perspective at home and put on my socially conscious thinking hat (with the matching glasses) in order to catch the message Spike was trying to convey through Chi-Raq.
First, I’ll start with the movie title: “Chi-Raq.” In the film, the name serves two purposes: it is the alias for a notorious gang-banging rapper from Chicago (played by Nick Cannon) and is also a portmanteau of “Chicago” and “Iraq,” connoting the city’s high level of mass shootings and killings, which have been closely compared to the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a Huffington Post article published in 2012, “while some 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, more than 5,000 people have been killed by gun fire in Chicago during that time.” So my question is, are people more offended by the negative connotation of the movie title, or the disheartening truth behind the name’s inference? Because to me, the stats are way more disturbing.
Next, I wanna touch on is the film’s storyline: After an innocent child is murdered in the streets of Chicago due to gang violence, a woman named Lysistrata (played by the phenomenal Teyonah Parris), the girlfriend of Chicago gang leader and rapper Chi-Raq, takes matters into her own hands. In a desperate call-to-action, she urges the women of Chicago — including the girlfriends of rival gang members — to go on a sex strike to end the violence. In other words, “No peace, no piece.” The women band together in sexless sisterhood, making a solemn vow to keep their love pockets on lock until the violence in their community has ceased.
Some people took offense to this as well. In one article I read titled “F–k You, Spike Lee” (I really wish I was making this up), the author wrote:
Women (in the film) are reduced to walking vaginas… Women don’t work, they don’t have hopes or dreams, they don’t do anything but get f—-d by dudes. And because that’s all they do, their vaginas have been imbued with such power that they can change the world. No, they don’t change the world with their intellect or their work, they change the world by refusing access to their golden vaginas…
Actually, I found the whole notion of women joining together in abstinent solidarity for a greater cause to be very inspiring and thought-provoking. There were a number of powerful themes conveyed in this aspect of the film alone, including sisterhood, women’s empowerment, and the power in saying “No” to sex.
In the same article, the author continued:
This film is an insult. It’s an insult to black women, it’s an insult to black men (who, guess what, are fully functioning humans not ruled by their d–ks), it’s an insult to Do the Right Thing, it’s an insult to Malcolm X, it’s an insult to who Spike Lee used to be.
OK, y’all. Let’s be real. Everyone knows that men are most vulnerable during sex. The male labido is simply a part of the man’s natural purpose as the seed bearer. No, not all men are controlled by their genitals, but men without self-discipline are. And I’d like to think that notorious gang bangers who use an excessive amount of drugs fall into the Severe Lack of Self-Discipline category. And quite frankly, they’re the last people we should be worried about insulting. Also, as a Black woman, I didn’t find the film to be offensive at all. Women hold a great deal of power in our sexuality, which is what I strongly believe Lee was trying to convey through the film’s storyline and female characters. They were women who used their intellect, compassion AND sexual prowess to fight for positive change in their community. If anything, I consider that to be empowering and commendable — not degrading, or the least bit insulting.
How many times have you heard a woman tell her man something like, “Bae, if you take out the trash and mow the lawn today, I’ll put on your favorite dress and do that thing you like later on tonight (wink, wink).” Y’all know what I’m talmbout. Ten times out of ten, bruh man bouta mow that lawn, take out that trash AND put the kids to bed. The women in the film were no different from the freaky chick I just mentioned. They basically were like, “Look, if y’all wanna keep dipping your hands in the cookie jar, y’all gon’ have to stop all this killing nonsense.” They were hella proactive. Sure, the idea of women refusing sex with their men to end violence may seem a bit drastic, but I think that was Spike’s whole point — SOMETHING DRASTIC NEEDS TO HAPPEN. Wasn’t it drastic when black folk decided to boycott all of the buses in Montgomery back in 1955? Wasn’t it drastic when they marched from Selma to Montgomery 10 years later? The way I see it, we need a whole lotta drastic right about now. Something more than an angry Facebook rant stamped with a “Black Lives Matter” hash tag.
Also the idea that women abstaining from sex would stop murders is offensive and a slap in the face to any mother that lost a child here
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) December 4, 2015
Is the idea of women abstaining from sex to end violence really offensive? Because I actually read that women throughout history and around the world have organized sex strikes to seek justice — and succeeded. Take the Liberian Women’s Movement of 2002 (which was actually referenced in the film), for instance. A female activist named Leymah Gbowee brought Christian and Muslim women together in a campaign to withhold sex from with their husbands until the violence and civil unrest subsided. According to an article in The Telegraph, the women’s group called for an immediate ceasefire and persuaded the president of Liberia to engage in peace talks with Ghana, which eventually led to the end of the civil war in 2003.
Here’s another abstinence movement I read about on Mic.com:
In September 2006, wives and girlfriends of gang members from the Colombian city of Pereira launched “La huelga de las piernas cruzadas” (or cross-legged strike), a 10-day movement intended to curb gang violence… According to surveys, gang members’ favorite activity was having sex, with gang association being more about power and sexual seduction than money. Women incentivized their men to hand in their guns with the motto, “violence is not sexy.” Though hard to determine, their efforts may have had lasting impacts: Pereira had a 26.5% murder drop by 2010.
So, contrary to popular belief, RECENT history proves that there is indeed a great deal of power in withholding “the piece” to gain peace.
Overall, I think Spike Lee did a phenomenal job with the film. Yes, some parts may have been cheesy and over the top — welcome to satire. The film wasn’t making a mockery of the city of Chicago. Really, it wasn’t even just about Chicago. It was about the social, political and economic struggles of the Black community as a whole, including police brutality, unemployment, gun violence, racial profiling, dysfunctional families, and the list goes on. Chi-Raq was simply a call-to-action challenging our people to think outside of the box. To get educated, get proactive, and get hella creative.
So tell me this: How is it that we have a BLACK filmmaker using his platform to raise awareness around issues in the BLACK community, and we STILL have a million and one things to complain and bash him about? This alone is a clear indication that we gotta do better, y’all.
I’m not saying you have to like the movie, but what I am saying is, you don’t have to dog it either — ESPECIALLY if you haven’t even seen it.