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.
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.