Rating: R (for strong sexual content including dialogue, nudity, language, some violence, and drug use)
Chi-Raq is the latest Spike Lee joint effort, co-written with Kevin Willmot, that deals with the urgent and unavoidable issue of Black-On-Black violence through the age-old conflict concerning the battle of the sexes. As a rabid Spike Lee fan, I give this movie 3 thumbs up for the style of presentation, casting and yes, originality!
Lee’s Classical and Contemporary Style Mix.
Lee’s film snatches from other classical and contemporary themes and events to draw attention to the skyrocketing Black-On-Black crime rate in Chicago, in particular. The name of the movie, itself, is synonymous with needless, corrosive conflict and war. The suffix, obviously, is named for the country “Iraq,” which was needlessly attacked, overthrown and destroyed as a result of false information and bogus provocation. Today, the war-torn country is a shadow of its former self. Compared to the Chicago of old where, as Angela Bassett’s character, Miss Helen, stated, “it was gang code never to shoot children” the toughs of Chicago have lost what may be considered a touch of chivalry that added to the polish and modern glorification of the older gangs. Today, the gangs of Chicago, much like the city itself, are a shadow of their former selves. The fighting that occurs is less about honor and more about wanton bloodlust and senseless vendettas as rival gang members can order the execution of babies and children in order to incur the suffering of their brothers. The name Chi-Raq is also a reflection of the musically improvisational language of Hip Hop culture and its, oft times, glorification of violence and vainglorious living.
Understanding Black Feminism.
Other plot equivalents deal with the name of Lee’s heroine, also named Lysistrata, played by Teyonah Parris. For those who may not be familiar with the classical play, the name wouldn’t seem odd, since many modern-day African-American names can seem equally exotic…it works! Just like her classical counterpart, she enlists all the women of the city of Chicago, including rival gang women, to withhold the “punani” in order to end the senseless violence of the Black youth of Chicago. This bold and unthinkable act is symbolic of an amazing reversal and redefinition of feminism and power created and, now, led by African-American women. To these women, the power of the “punani” isn’t about having power over men, but using her power to bring about a desperately needed change in the Black community. It’s not about just making the babies, but creating the conditions to preserve human life once it’s created.
Lee’s message goes further because once the issue of “making babies” is raised, so too is the value placed upon the Black woman. Spike Lee’s portrayal of her is a slick one in that he uses the common negative stereotypes attributed to Black women to raise the issue of the hypocrisy of sexual activity in an atmosphere of casual violence towards Black children.
Lee’s Deeper Layer.
Lysistrata’s boyfriend, a violent rival gang member played by Nick Cannon, is aptly named, Chi-Raq, because of his amalgamous portrayal of your average sociopathic neighborhood thug. Lysistrata’s efforts to stop the violence don’t seem to move him in the same positive direction to quit, much like his “blue-balled” compatriots. Ultimately, in the end, it takes another rival gang member, played by Wesley Snipes, to break the situation down to him and force him to face the reality that the gang life is just not as important as gettin’ it on and getting on with life. At the end of the film, while he is arrested and escorted off the scene, he eloquently voices his fire in a soliloquy of classic Greek proportions that warns brothas like himself to “bring the Truth” and confess to their internal pain and to the senseless murders of the innocents…and thus, ”end them.”*