Spike Lee to Shoot "Chiraq", Chicago Politicians, Citizens, & Suburbanites Are Pressed

Last month, it was reported that legendary Brooklyn, New York director and producer Spike Lee would be coming to Chicago, Illinois to shoot a film called "Chiraq". Immediately, the controversy and commentary unleashed online, especially amongst Chicago and Illinois natives.

Spike Lee is responsible for the amazing films such as "School Daze" (1988), "Do The Right Thing" (1989), "Malcolm X" (1992), "4 Little Girls" (1997) and "When the Levees Broke" (2006), just to name a few. What the majority of Lee's films have in common is the theme of celebrating Black American history and culture and revealing the harsh truths of systematic racism, poverty, and social inequalities. Unsurprisingly, Lee is no stranger to controversy when it comes to his filmography. For example, while filming "School Daze" at his Alma mater, Morehouse, Lee and his crew were kicked off the campus because the filming of the movie was thought to be portraying HBCUs negatively.

Photo Credit: Billboard

"Chiraq" is a term that has been embraced by the youth of under served Chicago neighborhoods with the majority of Black people as the main demographic. The term compares Chicago to Iraq in regards to the number of citizens who have been killed in combat during the Iraq War. Although Spike Lee has not revealed the plot of the movie has informed critics: "Wait until the movie comes out." at a press conference as St. Sabina Church this month, I personally do not think that the movie will garner negative stereotypes as predicted. As noted previously, analyzing at the track record and themes of Lee's film history, I envision that the film will widen the lens on the connection of the socio-economic and political issues within inner city communities that have created the factors for the establishment of the term "Chiraq" and the gun violence.

Newly re-elected Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is one of the many politicians of the city who are not pleased with the title of Lee's film as well as the fact that he wishes to have a $3 million tax credit. Along with the the assessment of Chicago politicians as well as online comments, many people do not want Spike Lee to create this film. For the politicians, the displeasure seems to surround the potential loss of money. If the film is shot here and publicized nationally, it would supposedly cause a decrease in tourists gallivanting to the city. From online comments: Spike Lee should "go back to New York" and not "exploit Chicago". Many commenters have recapitulated that Chicago is a "beautiful city" and does not deserve this negative press, especially from an outsider. If that is the case, then no filmmaker should create any (controversial) films unless they are native of the location. These comments have also made me question if any of these critics have ever seen a Spike Lee film before?

To the politicians: I doubt tourists would even come around the neck of the woods of neighborhoods like Englewood and Austin. They have nothing to worry about since downtown and the North side are mainly advertised as the "hot spots" in Chicago. I can't help but to wonder if a director like Steven Spielberg came to Chicago wanting to shoot a film about the notorious gangster Al Capone, would the backlash be the same? Similarly to the backlash of the recent Baltimore rebellion, the response to the problem is always addressed, but never the core issue at hand. The issues that created "Chiraq" is apart of a long-stemming history of White supremacy, capitalism, systematic racism, redlining, drugs (crack cocaine in specific) being poured into Black communities, and infiltration of gangs just to name a few. Stating how beautiful Chicago is will not make the over excessive gun violence problems in the hoods disappear. I'm  certain that some of the people making these comments against the film are some of the same ones who make unsympathetic comments about the killing of Black life and would not walk through a predominantly Black, Chicago inner city neighborhood or work with Black youth if you paid them to.

Within the culture of Chicago, there lies deep hypocrisy with the opposing of Lee's filming of "Chiraq". While some people are upset with his decision, they have went silent on the emergence of Chicago drill rap which has been popularized by some Chicago rappers in the past few years. This sub-genre of music has been embraced by many throughout the city, by some of the same people who feel that Lee is out to exploit the gun violence problems. Without the support of Chicagoans and Chicago media outlets, the term "Chiraq" would not have been popularized within pop culture and carried its stigma. It is also to be noted that Lee is not the first non-native of Chicago to travel here and create a film about the recent onset of gun violence. Although they were only documentaries, many filmmakers have also created short films highlighting the rise of drill music and the connection of the violence.

Photo Credit: BET

I believe that some politicians and even citizens of Chicago feel embarrassed that Lee will probably be exposing the troubles going on in Chicago in the upcoming movie "Chiraq". Perhaps it would make aldermen and other city officials in political positions seem that they are performing insufficient work to suffice to violence in particularly inner city areas. I don't find that Lee is "glorifying" the term "Chiraq" by making it the title of this film, but unsheltering the reality of under served areas of Chicago. If I create a piece of artwork that exposes the brutalities of gun violence in Chicago, am I "celebrating" "Chiraq"? No. I'm simply using the term to reveal the issue at hand. People have got to learn the context of titles. Seeing that the film will be shot in the summer, one of the main seasons when a plethora of deadly shootings occur, I think this will give many young people something positive to do, and a chance to be surrounded by a renowned filmmaker who has created a positive impact on Black culture through film.

If only there were as many suggestions and conversations on how to solve the gun violence problems as there are complaints about this film being made. Personally, I am going to give Spike Lee a chance on this picture. I could be very wrong about the plot of this film, but just analyzing the pro-Black themes of Lee's films, I think there will be an impactful outcome and hopefully confidently influence the youth of Chicago's toughest neighborhoods



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