I was invited to see CHI-RAQ the other day. Here’s the thing, I accepted the invitation because the movie was showing at The NightLight this cute little Indie theater I’ve been meaning to visit for a year now. I didn’t have high expectations for CHI-RAQ in fact I was fully prepared for it to be garbage. Social media had been belly aching about it for weeks. What else would I expect after reading things like;
“…the movie pales compared with what it’s like in the real Chi-raq”
“CHI-RAQ fails to illuminate the lives of many Chicagoans who go to bed with the sound of gunfire outside their window and wake up with the news of yet another murder.”
“… the film is a disservice”
All quotes from an article by Dahleen Glanton (Chicago Tribune) Not to mention the obligatory outrage on social media. From what I’ve pieced together folks hated the title of the movie, because of negative connotation. Yet, Spike Lee did not coin the name nor is he responsible for a perception of Chicago that was already in place long before the movie. After reading his interview in Chicago Magazine with Bryan Smith the petty in me thought, “But did he lie?”
We started shooting Chi-Raq June 1. We finished July 9. During that time, 331 people got wounded, 65 murdered. New York City has three times the population of Chicago; Chicago has more homicides than New York City. Last week, The Daily Beast had a front-page story saying that Chicago is the No. 1 city in America for mass murders [actually, for mass shootings, defined as three or more people shot in a single incident]. Chicago is the poster boy [for violence]. I’m not making this stuff up. So what’s there to argue then?
As far as how Chicago is portrayed in Chiraq, before seeing the movie I was in agreement with critics. I thought it was Lee’s responsibility to portray that inner city to the best of his ability and as accurately as possible. I THOUGHT Spike Lee had failed us all.
Dare I discuss the casting? NICK CANNON AS A GANGSTA RAPPER. Nick is some generation’s version of Wayne Brady, cornballing up the place but he’s adorable so we accept his shenanigans. His other roles are (set aside the one as Mr. Mariah Carey) barely forgivable so how were we supposed to accept him as this hard core gangsta?
So here I am in this cute cozy theater (Akron folks, seriously go check out The NightLight) playing in my hair, bored already, and thinking about chicken and the copious amount of shade I was going to write regarding Nick Cannon. Then something curious happens.
The usher comes out from a curtain (probably a backroom) and explains that CHI-RAQ is based on the Greek play Lysistrata. My interest is now mildly peaked. The movie starts and guys…
SPIKE HAS ME AT HELLO
The soundtrack is dope. (Despite R. Chester the Molester Kelly having a track.) Nick Cannon was BRILLIANT. My heart broke in a million pieces for Irene and Patti. I never doubted Jennifer Hudson or Angela Bassett. (Mrs. Helen) I applauded Father Mike Corridan for keeping it all the way real. (Ever hear a priest drop an F bomb?) Samuel and Wesley were hilarious and the rest of the cast was solid as they could get. But listen, Queen Teyonah Parris brought down the house as Lysistrata.
I have to take some of my bias into consideration. Three of my all time favorite movies are Spike Lee Joints, (Crooklyn, She Hate Me, and She’s Gotta Have It) I am obsessed with musicals, and I love Greek Mythology. But, I have to agree with Spike Lee;
“…There are many examples — music, plays, novels, movies — where humor has been injected into very serious subject matter, So people need to relax. They need to stop thinking I’m gonna make light of the loss of life. Please. Calm down.”
Sorry not sorry I loved CHI-RAQ. I’m giving it a solid 5 stars and adding it to my favorites list and remembering that although it does address a serious subject matter it is in fact entertainment.