Spike Lee leads anti-gun violence march to Times Square after Chi-Raq premiere

2 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Movie review: ‘Chi-raq’ is Spike Lee’s hip-hop ‘Lysistrata’.

Spike Lee and the stars of his new film Chi-Raq denounced Rahm Emanuel at the movie’s premiere on Tuesday, hours after the Chicago mayor fired his police chief over a video showing a teen shot 16 times by an officer. Spike Lee talks about ‘Chi-Raq,’ his latest movie, an update of a Greek play in which gangsters’ wives and girlfriends decide to withhold sex until the violence stops.One standard complaint often heard from white conservatives is that African-Americans are eager to complain about police killings of black citizens but say nothing about black-on-black violence.That’s the rallying cry in Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq,” a “Lysistrata” set in bullet-riddled Chicago, where the women have gone on a sex strike to force their men end the gang wars.

At the New York premiere of the satire about gun violence, Lee predicted that police superintendent Garry McCarthy was “not going to be the only one” punished for how the city handled the case of Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old whose killing was recorded in a dashcam video. “Some more heads are gonna roll,” predicted Lee, who built his reputation with films that confront racial and political issues. Forget “She’s Gotta Have It.” In this movie, no one’s gonna get it — or, at least, not as long as the streets are full of rage and children are still caught in the crossfire. He and about 150 people, including other members of the film’s cast, joined a march from midtown to Times Square to protest gun violence on Tuesday. Though first conceived of by Aristophanes almost 2,500 years ago, Lee’s movie is pure hip-hop, with Lee and Kevin Willmott’s script done mostly in rapping rhymes. Lee clashed with Emanuel earlier this year when the mayor – a former chief of staff to Barack Obama – summoned the director to complain that the film’s title would hurt tourism. “I’m not the bad guy, but that’s how he was trying to portray it,” Lee told Chicago Magazine of his meeting with the mayor. “Do I have the guns?

Emanuel narrowly won a runoff election in April that pit him against Chuy Garcia, a candidate who campaigned against police abuses and gained the backing of black leaders. His offense against the dicta of white folks’ morality, I suppose, lies in seeing those things as profoundly tragic and as stemming from complicated historical roots, and in suggesting that they reflect the underlying values of a racist society. As Lysistrata, Teyonah Parris is a fierce, finger-snapping leader while, as her man Chi-Raq, a cast-against-type Nick Cannon, is surprisingly tough and moody. What right-wingers on TV whose undies are bundled over Black Lives Matter actually want, of course, is not black political engagement with the causes or consequences of violent crime in the black community. Cusack also lamented the crisis of gun violence that has racked Chicago for months. “I think that 2,200 people being shot per year, and 500 murders, [are] unacceptable,” he said.

At least 2,300 people have been shot in the city this year, according to statistics tracked by the Chicago Tribune, 400 more than were shot during the same months of 2014. Lee shows some other old weaknesses, too, with the kind of honky stereotypes some fans wished he’d outgrown after “Mo Better Blues” — like an ancient, racist general in Confederate flag underwear. The problem for such viewers with the deliriously messy “Chi-Raq” — with its rhyming couplets, slow-jam dance numbers and rallying cry of “No peace, no pussy!” — is that it’s more like a declaration of war than a surrender. And no Lee film is complete without his love of music, which underscore great moments such as Jackson’s sly raps and a slow-jam dance number that the women whip out after they’ve seized an armory. After a few bare-bones indies, Lee looks poised for a second wind with “Chi-Raq” — though looking at his entire oeuvre from “She’s Gotta Have It” to today, the new movie looks like second-rate Spike, closer to “School Daze” than “25th Hour.” At its best, it’s sexy and surprising.

Those things are eminently worth attacking, and if “Chi-Raq” is a messy and imperfect work of agitprop cinema, it also reduced me to tears at least twice, made me laugh a bunch of times and had the entire audience — at a critics’ screening — whooping and hollering along with the congregation during a fire-breathing sermon delivered by John Cusack. Lee, Cannon and others referred to tense demonstrations that erupted after the release of the McDonald video in late November, saying they hoped people would protest peacefully. “I am hopeful that nothing crazy happens, but I’m glad the tape is being released,” Lee told talkshow host Stephen Colbert in November. “This is democracy, and I sometimes don’t think we can pick and choose what America should see.” “Young people in the long-term will remember what happened in this film and why people why people like Rahm Emanuel must be held accountable,” he said. Another Chicago-born actor, George Willborn, said that the cast members’ march was meant to urge Chicagoans toward an alternative to the cycle of poverty and crime. “I’m standing with people who believe in hope.” Catholic priest and activist Michael Pfleger, the man on whom Cusack’s character is based, asked fellow marchers to do more to stop gun violence, saying: “I make a pledge to stop violence in my home, on my block and in my city.” Lee has always been clear that America’s racial problem is not about white people as such, but an institutional system of white racism that allows all individual white people to hold themselves innocent of its history and unaccountable for its continuing operation — hey, I never owned any slaves, and Jim Crow laws were abolished while I was in the cradle!

Not only does Cusack get a prominent role, we also encounter a genial white police captain armed with significant trivia knowledge about the Chi-Lites. But if there is one thing I would definitely like people to think about after seeing “Chi-Raq” … is that we really have to be serious about guns. As in the Aristophanes original, Lee and Willmott don’t pretend that the sex strike led by the gorgeous and resolute Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) and her black and brown sisters of the South Side will really be enough to end Chicago’s epidemic of violence. (If the title requires explication, Lee provides it promptly: More Americans have died on the streets of Chicago since 2001 than in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.) In the collision between Lysistrata and her diabolically handsome boyfriend, who has himself taken the rap name Chi-Raq and is beyond doubt a “thug 4 life” of the highest order, we understand who is likely to win but not why or how.

Jackson as a combination of stand-up comedian, street prophet and Greek chorus, just for starters — and loaded up with film-school winks and nods to “Doctor Strangelove” and “Patton” and whatever else I didn’t notice on first viewing, it’s tough for one actor to stand out. We don’t see enough of Chi-Raq’s inner life for me to fairly compare him to someone like Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, but in all honestly Cannon made me feel that mixture of pain and recklessness and uncertainty that produces cruelty to self and to others. I know that for a lot of directors, there’s one film and they’re struck by lightning and they say “that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life,” but that’s not necessarily the case with me. A: I would say the great, great film of (writer) Budd Schulberg, “A Face in the Crowd,” Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” and (writer) Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network.” Those things really still speak to what’s happening in this crazy world today.

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