On Inflammatory “Chiraq” Reviews When You Haven’t Watched the Movie

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I avoided reviewing Spike Lee’s “Chiraq” until now. Full disclosure here — Lee is one of my favorite directors. Ever since he made Brooklyn come alive in “Do the Right Thing,” I’ve been hooked.

Though far and few between, whenever Lee drops off a new joint there is a least one character, subplot or line I completely relate to. I usually walk away feeling satisfied and thirsty for another story.

The realization that we are in a different time has never been more apparent than the Lee of 2015. He’s older, grayer, and aligns himself with likes of Al Sharpton — all things that would deem him characteristically un-cool. He’s no Ryan Coogler; Lee has officially entered grandfather territory. Like R&B acts of the ‘90s, he struggles to maintain his relevance with the new generation. Where 80s babies think of pizza parlors and boomboxes whenever Lee’s name is brought up, millennials see a geriatric meme in New York Knicks colors.

With all those things considered, it should probably come as no surprise that Lee’s “Chiraq” was metaphorically sprayed on sight by today’s social media driven generation — a group anyone would confidently assume to be his ideal market.

The name itself — “Chiraq” — an erasure of Chicago and its infusion with Iraq to epitomize the killings in the Windy City, made natives shudder. Lee took heat for a stigmatization of their home turf, some have concluded.

Chicago’s own King Louie (a rapper who has criticized the film) gave the moniker legs way before production began.

The imminent doom of “Chiraq” came courtesy of influential rappers and Twitter users — who given the community’s current fight against police brutality — saw bringing inner city gun violence to the forefront as a nuisance.

The number of police shootings around the country where the assailant is unarmed and not a threat are astounding.

“Chiraq” stirs the pot of targeted activism. Lee holds up a rearview mirror for the community to look at or ignore; but right now, many have presumed, is the wrong time. Slamming shortcomings and failures when comment sections are trolled with questions like, “Where are the Black Lives Matter people now?” is a counterproductive effort. Police brutality nor black on black violence is any easy fix.

To his credit, “Chiraq” audaciously attempts to solve gun violence through satire. Satire has long been a difficult genre. For one, there is the risk a creator takes in having the message gravely misconstrued (see: taken literally) by the public.

Chiraq-Review

Lee’s message — spoiler alert — involved the banding together of women to withhold sex as the key to ending gang violence, a modern twist on Lysistrata, a Greek comedy performed in 411 BCE.

Maybe satire wasn’t the best route because there’s nothing remotely funny about mothers having to bury their sons. Still, true fans of the craft might appreciate Lee’s ambition.

Lee’s wrong turn was by ignoring the demographic that is targeted from all sides of gun violence. Young people. They’re on front lines, protesting and attending funerals.

I enjoyed “Chiraq” in spite of the side spectacle of premature reviews. The film was set in Chicago, but it was a reflection of the problems disadvantaged communities face around the country.

Go see “Chiraq” for yourself or don’t.

Happy Veterans Day! Now About #ConcernedStudent1950

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Is anyone else feeling particularly melancholy on this Veterans Day? I know that Memorial Day — which is in May, not November — is the holiday reserved for honoring fallen servicemen and women with expressions of gratitude for the sacrifices they’ve made for the safety of American citizens around the world. But this November 11 coincides with the arrest of a white man who issued a terroristic threat promising to shoot and kill black students on the campus of the University of Missouri. The threat is a blatant response to the activism against the racially aggressive environment that has plagued that college campus since its inception. In this millennium, students have had to deal with swastikas drawn on the walls with feces and racial epithets hurled every which way.

While the two events are totally unrelated, I can’t help but to feel sadness at our nation’s preoccupation with protecting its citizens from outside forces (see: yesterday’s GOP debate), yet many of us who live here are constantly threatened, attacked or killed by our supposed brothers and sisters who pledge allegiance to the same unionized flag.

It is not 1950 when black and white children were barred from attending the same schools; it is 2015. It is not 1963 where people marched for equal rights; it is 2015. We are regressing and something must be done.

The presence of #ConcernedStudent1950, the group responsible for the successful ouster of the university’s incompetent President Tim Wolfe and his chancellor, is an uncomfortably nostalgic one. They modeled themselves after a campus group who fought for the same respect and protection over half a century ago.

Back in 1962 on a campus not too far away, James H. Meredith, who was a black Air Force Veteran, tried to register for classes at “Ole Miss” several times without success. Tensions were so bad coming from white students who wanted him out, President John F. Kennedy sent federal troops to the campus. In the midst of all the violent riots two people died. With the help of the National Guard, Meredith was able to attend classes and segregation ended on the campus.

While I respect and honor our veterans who bring a sense of safety and peace, I just wish the leaders of our government exacted the same passion with the citizens of this country. What if that level of manpower was used to bring committers of hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law?

I wonder.

Peace Out to Empty Friendships: Why Some Relationships Aren’t Worth the Worry

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This year was admittedly a breakout year for me. Beyond the scope of career accomplishments and scratching idyllic travel destinations off my bucket list (toot! toot!); my greatest achievement thus far was mustering the courage to walk away from relationships that no longer served me.

More specifically, I saw less of a need for friendships that were one-sided, that lacked the mutual curiosity to push each of us forward, those buried in jealousy or bitterness and so-called friends who’d refused to accept my flaws and love me just as I am.

By no means do I believe I am a perfect person, but there is a thin line between stripping away a person’s essence to cater to another’s agenda while never once offering a genuine hand of support.

I clung to people who I had mistakenly categorized as friends. I collected them like chips at the casino and relied heavily on our infrequent interactions to feed my confidence.

Just knowing that I had a solid mix of friends to roundup for selfies at Happy Hour felt right. But when I found myself lost and feeling anxious or depressed, I realized I had nowhere to turn. Not because these so-called friends were incapable of consoling me in my times of need, but because we had never reached the depth of friendship that is necessary to feel safe enough to open up.

They never saw me ugly cry; they never saw me fall apart.

My primary job was playing Miss Perfect, and in that character, I willingly peddled to everyone else’s needs, wants, and invitations. In turn, I compromised my own happiness with this way of thinking. Each and every time, regardless the situation, I started putting other people’s feelings above my own because I felt “stronger” or guiltily, more “privileged.” I felt I could handle overt or inadvertent rejection from those so-called friends because I had forced myself to sympathize with whatever they were going through.

I belittled myself and subsidized my own happiness for the sake of others. This became apparent to me one day when I decided I actually didn’t want to go to a Happy Hour for fun. I fantasized about daytime brunches at my house, taking weekend-long road trips up to the mountains or going to check out a movie — just about anything that didn’t require a short dress and 5-inch stilettos.

It also doesn’t help that I work in an industry that thrives on likes and shares, so having a solid source of sisterhood became essential. I introduced ideas that my uninterested circle of friends said would “take a lot of work.” Even worse, I’ve had people cancel on the day of a meet-up and beg and plead for a makeup date. Eventually, I closed up shop.

I decided I wasn’t going to be strong anymore for friends who had refused to hold up their end of the bar. This was taking too much work and a great toll on my emotional state.

So, I built a wall of invincibility (or so I thought), but behind that wall was a broken and defensive woman who couldn’t allow herself to embrace vulnerability or honesty.

Being vulnerable means circumstantially sacrificing that wall of strength, a wall that is forever in danger of toppling over at the slightest rift.

In all of this, I did have my mom. She is truly a best friend and if she wasn’t 60 years old and opposed to alcoholic beverages, she would no doubt be my ride or die.

Her advice, plainly put, was to stop answering the call. “You don’t owe anyone anything and the same goes for them,” she told me. It was at the very point I started doing things that I wanted to do without co-signs from outsiders.

I still long for those genuine, bugged-out friendships where we can let our guards down and just have fun. I still want to have those intellectual heart-to-hearts where we sit down and mull over politics or all the disparities that have plagued the culture. I still desire that ambitious wanderlust who will encourage me to spit in fear’s face and go after my heart’s desires.

But in the meantime, I’m not going to force it. I know that friendships are not supposed to drain me of my confidence and peace. I’m learning to value the people within my reach and have made a commitment to give all I have to enrich those friendships.