Chiraq And The Balancing Act Of Satire

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.


3 thoughts on “Chiraq And The Balancing Act Of Satire

  1. I agree that we should give the movie a chance given Spike Lee’s reputation as well as his political activism against gun violence and police brutality however the anger is also understandable. Many have dismissed the #BlackLivesMatter movement by diverting attention to “black on black” violence. (in my opinion,two categories that should not be compared to each other). In an article on “The Root”, Spike Lee states that movie is satire and not a comedy. Thus, he is using humor as a method to criticize and bring attention to a serious issue which is that gun violence in Chicago rivals war torn areas like Iraq, which I didn’t know. I have noticed that many critics are politicians that represent Chicago, but my question to them would be what they are doing to fight rising gun violence in Chicago. Satire has always been a great method to combat serious matters, in the Middle East the television show “#Selfie” talked about ISIS recruitment through social media in a satirical way but that didn’t mean that the television did not have its serious moments.


  2. I condone and support Lee’s decision to make a movie about Chicago gang violence. The inevitable press the issue will receive is enough to make the movie a success. Essentially, regardless of the films ratings and content, the publicity of the film is going to draw national attention to the crime in Chicago.

    The film seemed to appropriately synthesize action, comedy, and drama into the trailer. Critics are quick to dismiss the necessity for the film to be appealing. If the film was simply a documentary, then it would not capture the attention and press Lee is working towards.

    It seems this topic is a challenging topic to report on, this suggest Lee is going out of his way to expose this topic. I think that instead of critics giving him a hard time prematurely, rather they should be hyping up the movie and appreciate the effort lee is making to expose this issue of gang violence.


  3. I’m going to see the movie because I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but looking at the trailer, it seems pretty terrible. I do not think satire is a very good approach to communicating the systemic problems plaguing Chicago currently. This subject matter does not deserve to be diluted with extreme instances of fiction. Furthermore, star studded cast makes the film seem extremely commercial and cheesy just from the trailer. I completely agree that Nick Cannon is a poor choice for a character that is supposed to convey the emotion of living in Chicago right now. Chicago deserves a film as serious as 12 Years a Slave –not a movie that reduces the situation to entertainment or fantasy. I’m not really sure what commentary Spike Lee was trying to make with the withholding-sex story, and I’m not sure any argument could convince me that his decision to include this plot point was a good idea.


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