Spike Lee is brilliant; his ingenuity is refreshing in a world steeped in decadent art. This is not to say that there are not good examples of art in society; it’s just that a lot of what passes for popular culture is steeped in violence and mayhem, and that’s what tends to get the best exposure. It is as though people are bored unless the subject matter takes you into a deep dark place.
The movie Chiraq was controversial even before it was made. The mayor of Chicago and other politicos were up in arms because of the bad name that it allegedly gave the city. Never mind that Spike Lee didn’t coin the term; it was home grown. And never mind that a very real problem of violence exists in Chicago. Just sweep it under the rug, but lament the situation without doing anything substantive about it.
Spike Lee’s Chiraq does what art can do. In a creative way it can highlight an issue and, more importantly, make people feel “some type of way” about it. It is a satirical take on the violence that is not only evident in Chicago, but all around the world. It is done in an unexpected manner; it is not a traditional movie – Spike Lee has broken interesting ground with a fresh approach both script wise as well as in cinematography.
Many Chicagoans criticize the movie and Spike Lee, calling him an opportunist. They accuse him of exploiting a very negative situation for the sake of making money. But they forget – good art is able to make people talk about issues, make money and make people think. The power of this last point is evident by the fact that Chiraq has drawn a heightened response from people who otherwise would have done absolutely nothing about the problem of violence. And one of the most endearing aspects of the movie and the controversy surrounding it is the fact that it posits a strategy, albeit a far-fetched one, that is also entertaining. In fact, under certain circumstances, it might even be plausible.
One other thing that the movie demonstrates is the importance of people, and in this case Black people, being able to tell their own stories. A movie such as Chiraq could not have been made by someone of another culture, no matter how well-meaning they may be. This is not a racist statement, rather it points to the intimacy and nuances about culture that someone else may overlook. It is for this same reason that it is important to have the Black Press and electronic media – people must tell their own stories and address issues in a way that is familiar and comfortable to them.
Now, about the criticism from the Black community – people have decried Black-on-Black violence for a long time, but very few, if any viable strategies of combating it have been put forth. Certainly, we have people patrols, community policing, and more. But the “snitches get stitches” attitude in the Black community just about guarantees that nothing will be done; perpetrators will not be brought to justice even when small children become the collateral or even designated targets. This is a travesty, yet people are up in arms because Spike Lee dared to highlight this wild predicament that is keeping the community enslaved by Black slave masters dwelling in the realms of gangsterism. And what’s more, Spike Lee also calls out the issue that the community is endangered not only by Black thugs, but also by the police.
The true brilliance of Chiraq is in the way that the artistry deals with a very difficult subject in an unforgettable way, and for this the armchair critics should take note. While others are giving lip service to the problem, Chiraq highlights issues that are sure to be talked about, and hopefully acted upon, to help quell the tide of murderous violence not only in Chicago, but wherever people live. A luta continua.