Spike Lee’s newest joint, Chiraq, has drawn ire from many following the release of the film’s trailer. Native Chicagoans, and other activist types have been quick to claim that the film, through both the title and content, makes light of very real tragedy that many face on a day-to-day basis. The film is an adaptation of the Ancient Greek Comedy Lysistrata, in which a woman attempts to end the Pelopponesian War by convincing a coalition of women to withhold sex from their husbands. Given what is revealed in the trailer, the plot of the movie doesn’t seem to stray far from its inspiration.
This take on Chicago gang violence has not been well received. One such critic is blogger Ernest Owens, who is highly disapproving of the film’s premise.
You make this a black-on-black trauma without taking into consideration external systemic factors. And to top it off, you place women of color as the barriers to these men’s burdens. That’s not original, that’s just plain pathetic.
Furthermore, you hetero-normative perspective on black masculinity and femininity is also non-evolving as well. Seriously, you’re going to place Nick Cannon in a bunch of fake tattoos, blow weed smoke, and yell “Chiraqqqqqq” and think that’s really what’s up?
Lee has since responded to such claims, challenging the critics to “see the movie first.” According to Spike, these people have simply misunderstood the role of satire, and the elements that make it clearly distinct from comedy. Chiraq is not a comedy, but a satire, he says. It most certainly has humorous elements, as should any satire. In no way does Chiraq make light of the many lives lost to gang violence in Chicago.
So what is the place of satire in telling the story of gun violence in Chicago? As with any politically charged situation, satire is an indispensible tool that, when used correctly, should be unimpeachable. The role of satire in addressing tragedy is to point out the elements that contribute to the absurdity of the tragedy, demonstrating how ridiculous it is that it even happened in the first place.
It seems that Lee’s hyper sexualization of women and cartoonish characterization of Chicago gangbangers is extreme enough to be regarded as absurd, self-aware, and most certainly satirical. But is the entertainment value worth ignoring the root causes and practical solutions to Chicago’s violence?
If Chiraq manages to present gang violence in Chicago with a fresh perspective that furthers awareness and discourse, then it will be a successful satire. If it doesn’t then it could very well go down as an espousal of sexist, backwards-thinking, insensitive cinema for which Lee should offer an apology.
In the meantime, it would probably be best to avoid writing it off entirely until we see more than two minutes of footage.