Chi-raq is not an easy film to critique. It’s based on a 2,000 year old Greek play and has a lot of controversy around the film, not to mention a stigma attached to the director, Spike Lee. I will try to report the facts as I saw them. Probably at this point, not many have heard or seen this movie. You may not have even heard of the Greek play from which it was derived.
A Little Greek History: Lysistrata (/laɪˈsɪstrətə/ or /ˌlɪsəˈstrɑːtə/; Attic Greek: Λυσιστράτη, “Army Disbander”) is a comedy by Aristophanes. Originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BCE, it is a comic account of one woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace—a strategy, however, that inflames the battle between the sexes. The play is notable for being an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society. The dramatic structure represents a shift away from the conventions of Old Comedy, a trend typical of the author’s career. It was produced in the same year as the Thesmophoriazusae, another play with a focus on gender-based issues, just two years after Athens’ catastrophic defeat in the Sicilian Expedition.
Chi-raq pronounced (“shy-rack”) is a nickname given to Americas third largest city, Chicago. Chicago was given this nickname because there are more murders and violence that occur in Chicago than the war in Iraq. Walking the streets of Chicago is like walking in Iraq with all the murders, robbery, gang bangs, and acts of violence.
Modern Chi-raq: Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) who is in love with aspiring Rapper Demtrius “Chi-raq” Dupree (Nick Cannon) ends up moving in with her neighbor Helen (Angela Bassett), a book-loving peace activist who lost her daughter years ago to a stray bullet. Lysistrata is disturbed because of the war between Chi-raq’s Spartan gang and the rival Trojans, led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) plus the fact that the Trojans set fire to her apartment while she was in bed with Chi-raq. Adding fuel to the fire, Patti, an 11-year-old neighborhood girl, falls victim to a drive-by shooting, leaving her grieving mother, Irene (Jennifer Hudson) to plead for anyone with info to come forward. Even after a reward is offered by a local Church congregation, led by fiery anti-gun-violence activist Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack), no one is willing to identify the killer. Desperation resulted in the Spartan and Trojan women swearing off sex with their men until the fighting stops. Women across the city and eventually the world joined the boycott. Their chant: “No Peace, No Piece” — Chi-raq is a searing satire of gun violence in America.
Chi-raq’s message is great but the movie is not for everyone. It’s truly designed for the targeted audience of young gang bangers and wanna be thugs. The language, profanity, sex and violence is plentiful. The slang is deep and in some cases, too ambiguous to decode. All in all, the message comes though and you will be entertained. Chi-raq is filled with stars. Samuel L. Jackson narrates the story and there’s lots of eye candy, male and female.