By Afra Nariman
Directed by: Spike Lee
Stars: Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Dave Chappelle
Following the murder of a neighborhood child by a stray bullet, a group of women in Southside Chicago gather together to start a movement that challenges race, sex and violence around the world, with the goal of bringing peace to the Southside.
Spike Lee is a legendary staple in political cinema. His films have always been amongst the most socially relevant works of art available to us; and that statement is as true as ever today. This may not be his best film, but it might be his most assertive and in your face. It’s a film that everybody should watch. If I divulge too many details from the film, I would be taking away from its effectiveness; so I will try to give just a basic review of what the film does, how it does it, and why it’s so effective in doing so. Based on the play written by Greek playwright Aristophanes, this film, through music, satire, comedy and a thematic element of sex, clearly brings to light the issues in Southside Chicago and offers us a very powerful look at the reality of gun violence, police brutality and systematic racism in not only its focus city of Chicago, but also around the country and the world as a whole. The film’s “guide” and visual narrator is none other than the legendary Samuel L. Jackson playing Dolmedes. In refrence to the film’s inspiration (the play by Aristophanes), Dolmedes prepares us by introducing us to the film’s rhythmic prose when he elegantly says:
The entire film’s dialogue is read like a spoken-word poem that is rapped to us. The use of rhyme and rhythm makes the powerful messages of the movie stick with us in anenjoyable, upbeat and lively manner. Through its cleverly written dialogue, we are given an abundance of extremely important information and statistics that will shock many and put things into perspective, as far as how dire the situation is, in cities like Chicago. One of the most powerful and informative scenes is during the memorial for the young girl whose life has recently been lost to gun violence. The neighborhood priest gives a long monologue of a sermon that constantly lists facts and statistics in regards to the problem at hand. The film also plays tribute to real life victims of both gun violence and police brutality, including naming Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, amongst many, many others. This film was made shortly after the brutal murder of Eric Garner, so in 2015, no film was more relevant and powerful as this one. It serves as a wake up call to anyone unaware of or unwilling to do anything to solve the problems of gun violence and police brutality. It calls on everyone in the affected communities, and everyone not directly effected to step up, and fight for change. Lee has created a film that fulfills the basic goal of political theater or cinema, just as many of his other films have: ‘it outrages the audience and motivates them to do something about it.’
The film ends with an emotionally powerful moment and leaves us with the message that, people need to take responsibility for their community and their actions; and that people need to step up and fight for the necessary systematic changes that communities around the country and the world, like Southside Chicago, need in order to move forward towards a better future. It leaves us with the simple instructions: “Be good.” Like Dolmedes tells us in the end;
Love, if we remember from Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do the Right Thing, is in a constant battle with Hate. Love is the only hope we have at conquering Hate. Chi-Raq reemphasizes that notion and again, calls for us to act out of love in everything that we do.
Arguably the most theatrical film from Spike Lee’s filmography, Chi-Raq is able to absorb you through rhymes and rhythm and speak to you through brutally real facts about the issues it commentates on: gun violence, police brutality and systematic racism as a whole. The voice of Spike Lee radiates throughout the film. Chi-Raq is extremely effective in what it does, and how it does it. It may not be for everyone, as most satires aren’t, but by the end of the film, you will be affected and educated, while having gone through an emotional roller coaster of laughter, sadness and an anger towards the system, while watching it.