Throughout his 30 year career, Spike Lee has provoked and courted controversy, praise, criticism, anger and admiration with equal measure. A constant contrarian and revolutionary voice, Lee’s filmography paints beautiful and painful portraits of the Black American experience. His next film, Chi-raq, will follow this tradition.
Chi-raq is an amalgam of Chicago and Iraq, a reference to the war-zone level of gun violence taking place of Chicago’s streets, particularly on Chicago’s South Side. Lee is spearheading Amazon Studio’s bold first foray into original filmmaking. While Chi-raq isn’t a moniker local politicians want associated with the Windy City, Lee is using Chicago as a stage for presenting a sad truth about Black America.
Most cities where majority Black people live are riddled with poverty and violence. Black bodies cut down by bullets, lives oozing onto gravel, losing meaning without having a chance to matter. Lee highlighted this reality in an interview with Deadline.
“There’s a situation in America where young black men are killing young black men at alarming rates and Chicago, or Chiraq, is really like the poster boy for this,” he said. “Again, I’d like to state that in no way shape or form we saying that this only happens in Chicago.”
Violence in Black communities is both stigmatized and glorified, double truths battling one another. Nicki Minaj garnered notoriety last year after releasing a song entitled, “Chi-raq.” Baltimore, Maryland has the nicknames Bulletmore, Murderland, Bodymore and Murderland. Philadelphia is Killadelphia, Detroit is Murder City, and the list could goes on. Most impoverished schools and streets named after prominent and historical Black figures are decorated with ugly, urban plight. Lee is angling for Chi-raq to depict this stark reality in art.
Lee believes it’s his burden as an artist and filmmaker to tell this story at a time when gun control debates and race relations are taking a national stage.
“I’ve always believed that great art can impact world,” he said. “I would just be irresponsible as a filmmaker to not comment on this self-inflicted genocide, which is happening. We shot the film in Chicago but here’s the thing—the majority of the shootings and the killings are in the south side of Chicago. We started shooting this film this past June 1 and our last day of filming was July 9, so think about that. During that time of production while we were in Chicago, 331 people got wounded and shot and 65 got murdered.”
While many movies have commented on race relations, very few have taken on something as contemporary and raw as the issues presented in Lee’s latest work. Lee has always stirred discussion and there will be plenty of it come this winter when Chi-raq is released.