Controversial filmmaker Spike Lee is no stranger to the public having a strong reaction to his works of art in cinema. From School Daze to Do The Right Thing to Malcolm X and the list of box office hits continues, Lee has had to explain exactly what the message is in every film he has created. They say an artist should never have to explain what his or her work is about. The painting is supposed to touch a vein or inspire a spirit that is very personal to the spectator. If the audience walks away feeling effected, then the artist has succeeded. However, the film Chiraq, Lee has been met with criticism that is affecting the artist more than the audience.
The much-anticipated film Chiraq was expected to be a dramatic piece focused on the gun violence killing the Black youth in the city of Chicago. Due to the rising numbers in body count of Black children and teenagers in the world-class city, exceeding the body count in the Iraq war, unfortunately the city's claim to fame is now known as Chiraq. To the thousands of parents who have had to bury their children, they were hoping, and probably even praying, that Lee was going to raise awareness around the country about the seriousness taking place in Chicago. Whether it would have been a documentary or an action packed drama, the city was waiting for Lee to bring the thunder with the film Chiraq.
With an all-star cast including Nick Cannon, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Hudson, Wesley Snipes, and the list continues, the country just knew Lee was going to hit Chiraq out of the park. When the trailer to the film was released, Lee fans were split between disappointment, anger, and/or desperately trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. Lee decided to turn the out-of-control-gun-violence in major cities around the United States into a satire. Many were very confused as to why he chose to name the film Chiraq if the film was not about Chicago. And more importantly, those who have buried a child, best friend, cousin, sibling, student, etc. in Chicago do not see an ounce of humor in an 11-year-old getting his head blown off by an assault rifle walking home from school.
Before the film was released back on December 4, 2015, much of Chicago was in protest of giving the film a chance, based off of the trailer alone. Cracking jokes about Black women shutting Black men off from sex being the answer to end the gun violence, many had no desire to see more of the film. Lee pleaded with the public to just go see the film before concluding what the film was all about. December 4th came and went. The film was a box office hit because the country wanted to give the respected filmmaker the benefit of the doubt, so they paid their money to see another controversial film created by Lee to spark debates around the world. Lee, unfortunately, lost some of his fan based. Many watched the film to the end and walked out entertained while others exited the theaters shaking their heads in disgust with Lee.
A group of aspiring young Black filmmakers out of Chicago were interviewed and gave the film thumbs down. They believed Lee made light of the crisis they have to deal with daily on the southside of Chicago. One student stated that Lee would never make a satire out of the Sandy Hook tragedy when a classroom of first graders (majority Caucasian children) were gunned down in cold blood. The teenagers wanted to know why Lee would make light of their tragedies. Lee took the Sway satellite radio station and passionately explained his film does not make light of the death of Black children. He was offended that people would even think that he would find comedy in children being killed every day.
Some years ago, I was living in the Gold Coast of Chicago. I was taking a cab to work and instructed the driver to take a short cut because I was running late to work. He would have to take me through a suspect neighborhood. It was broad daylight. I thought nothing of my safety, at that time. It was hot outside, so the driver had the windows rolled down. His music was playing a little loud which I did not mind. I sat in the back on the passenger side looking out the window behind the driver's seat relaxed. It was a beautiful day. The neighborhood went from the beautiful high-rise buildings of downtown Chicago to run down buildings going west. Daydreaming as usual, I was soaking in the environment and relaxing to the music. The cab came to a red light. I turned my head to look out the window on my right. As soon as my head reached my right shoulder, a black gun was cocked between my eyes. Everything around me was still moving, but everything was silent. I felt absolutely nothing. I thought it was over for me. Behind the gun was a Black teenage male. He looked down at me with a smile. He lifted the gun and walked off with his friends. I was in shock. In hind-sight, I probably should have gone to a hospital for medical attention. The cab driver was clueless as to what just happened in the backseat of his cab, singing to his music. I went to work numb. I couldn't talk. Years later, I still have not recovered from that incident. And there was nothing funny about it!
I wanted Lee's film Chiraq to speak to the teenagers like the one I encountered. I wanted it to touch a vein or evoke emotion to stop kids like him from killing. I believe all of Chicago was hoping for the same thing.
The film had some heart-felt moments, a message, and many jokes. Die hard Lee fans loved Chiraq and were truly entertained with a message for people to put the guns down. Many Chicagoans, however, were not impressed nor affected. They lost respect for Lee and believe he profited off their pain. Lee has parents of slain children at the end of the film showing photos of their loved ones. Non-supporters of the film wonder if those parents knew the film was going to be a satire prior to agreeing to be in the film. Well the film has been made and it is here for the history books. Hopefully someone else will follow-up the satirical Chiraq...with the real one.