“Chiraq”

Spike Lee has come under fire from a lot of the black community, especially Chicagoans, about his upcoming satirical film Chiraq. Chiraq, coined by rapper King Louie, is a term “comparing the crime rate in the city to the war zones of the Middle Eastern nation”.[1]

From the title alone it is obvious that violence in Chicago will be a large theme within the film. Some people feel the title already makes the movie a poor misrepresentation of Chicago. Rahm Emanuel, himself, has openly stated his opposition to the title.[2] It becomes obvious how popularizing such a negative portrayal of Chicago can adversely affect the people that live in these neighborhoods. Positive perceptions of areas can spur on economic development and improve the welfare of the greater community through job and wealth growth. Companies do not want to invest in ‘war zones’. This only makes sense if the movie’s title is taken as an indictment of Chicago, but Spike Lee says it is a satire.

As a satire, it will be difficult for Spike Lee to not cross that border into offensive territory by using Chicago’s gun issues as a theme. The proliferation of gun violence in Chicago is a constant problem, with the city having “2,300 shootings so far this year—an average of more than eight per day and 400 more shootings than at this point last year”.[3] Also, with a mostly black cast, the movie could reinforce old stereotypes.

A common discourse on Chicago’s gun epidemic almost always leads to sweeping generalizations about African-American culture. An idea that there is a ‘thug’ element inherent to black Americans that does not affect other subgroups of the population. The ridiculous, longstanding notion of black criminality has a real effect on black lives in America. In 2015 “black men were seven times more likely than white men to die by police gunfire while unarmed”.[4] The racialized negative perceptions manifest as the disproportionate killing of unarmed black men. A real violence against black people, through the institutions of the police force and the justice system, endures through this notion. Spike Lee can do a lot of good by somehow illustrating the fallacies in the existence of ‘black criminality’, but he can also do a lot of harm if he accidentally reinforces a dangerous stereotype.

It is possible that Spike Lee may be trying to ignite a spark in black people South Chicago – the area of Chicago that Chiraq is named after – by showing just how ridiculous the mass violence is. This comedic approach of inspiration would purposefully anger blacks of South Chicago and inspire them to change, to improve, to stop the violence. The sentiment behind this approach would be to show Southern Chicagoans that most people do not care, or feel for, them because many of the shootings, murders and crimes are senseless and can be avoided. One would even go as far to say that people are laughing to the senselessness in Chiraq. As a black man who grew up in similar society in Brooklyn, New York, and a prominent black American figure, Lee may feel that he has enough validity and power among black Americans to create a comical satire on such sensitive issues in efforts to say “enough is enough,” so to speak. No one really knows Spike Lee’s true intentions, but Spike himself, but it is clear that he has made a satire that will certainly offend many black people – especially the ones who are subject to, and effected by, the violence and crime in Chiraq.

– Kyle Josias and Myles Gaines

[1] Robinson, Chauncey. “Spike Lee’s ‘Chiraq’ Spotlights Chicago Gun Violence.” People’s World, 10 November 2015. Web

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chandler, Adam. “Chicago’s Problem With Gun Violence.” The Atlantic, 29 September 2015.

[4] Somashekhar, Sandhya, Wesley Lowry, Keith Alexander, Kimber Kindy, and Julie Tate. “Black and Unarmed.” The Washington Post, 8 August 2015. Web

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