It’s fascinating the amount of criticism that Spike Lee has received since the first trailer for Chi-Raq debuted. Granted, Lee hasn’t put together the greatest string of films of his 30-plus years in the industry lately.
But, damn, hasn’t Shelton Jackson Lee at least earned the benefit of the doubt? This is the man who gave the world Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, School Daze and Bamboozled, among others.
When Hollywood lacked melanin, Lee injected it with films that tackled race relations and subjects like no other. He inspired a generation of filmmakers with his thought pieces and trademark filmmaking technique. He provided a lens into African-American lives well before Rap music kept it real.
No, he’s not perfect, but he’s ours.
Chi-Raq drew heat out of the gate, notably via Twitter where anybody with a WiFi connection can get mad about anything that has nothing to do with them. The title was a problem (Spike isn’t the first to use the name, but I digress…) and then it was the notion that sex could stop Black on Black violence. After that it was the supposed objectification of women and the title being used as a gimmick to draw box office numbers. Oh, it’s an adaptation of the Greek comedy Lysistrata? Well, Spike Lee already ruined Oldboy with an unnecessary remake so he should stay away, right?
“Maybe detractors should see the film first before laying it on so thick with the criticism.”
But is the criticism warranted? There have been columns calling for people to either boycott or bootleg the film. Black People want Spike’s head on a stick for pulling something like this off. With some of the vitriol aimed at Lee, you would think that he was celebrating gang violence for profit or putting on blackface and setting us back a century.
Chance The Rapper, who wasn’t even born when Lee’s Do The Right Thing opened in theaters, called Chi-Raq both “exploitive” and “problematic.” Another Chicago rapper, King Louie, dropped a song titled “F*ck Spike Lee.” Suffice it to say that some of the activists in Chicago aren’t too happy with the film trailer either. Honestly, it was the title that offended first and then everything else flew off the rails. Nobody cared that it was satire because satire is only funny when it’s not about you. Unfortunately, many of its skeptics won’t see the film to realize that it isn’t exactly about them.
(Oh, and there’s a big difference between satire and comedy. Do your homework before you confuse to two.)
This isn’t Bill Cosby’s now infamous “pound cake” speech that blames the person but doesn’t even attempt to get to the root of the problem.
Spike is a bit more careful with his narrative than that.
Chi-Raq is a biting indictment of gun culture as a whole and the city of Chicago, with its unbelievably high number of gun related crimes, provides the perfect setting for this very American problem to be tackled.
But maybe the detractors should see the film first before laying it on so thick with the criticism.
“It’s a dangerously fine line between caring and harpooning your own culture.”
You may not like the film when left to its own devices. The dialog can be a bit jarring and the casting does come off questionable in spots. The message sometimes drowns in the film’s satire and you may ask yourself why the white pastor is a voice of reason but Lee did his research and he didn’t just make this whole thing up out of thin air. Alas, it’s not perfect, but it does exactly what it set out to do: make us think.
The mere concept of women holding out sex in an attempt to curb the violence sounds utterly ridiculous. However, has anything else worked? This isn’t to say that using sex as a weapon for peace is the way to go. Rather, this is a film that has become so flabbergasted with trying to find a solution that it essentially threw it’s proverbial hands up and is willing to try anything.
The problem isn’t the film. The problem is that we spend far too much time critiquing our own rather than hone in on the real problems. Isn’t it a little too convenient that the biggest critics of the movie have been African-Americans? Many of which aren’t close enough to Chicago to come up with a real reason why they are so heavy handed with the criticism. It almost makes you yearn for the day before the Internet when a writer would be forced to sit on his column because print simply took longer to project these thoughts into the world. But today we can get pissed off about something a react immediately without really diving deep into what we’re mad about (Ayesha Curry, anyone?).
It’s fascinating how we come down so hard on things that make us think. White critics can’t criticize Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly for being too Black, but Black critics can. Look at the criticism of the album on the net and the writers responsible for it. For what it’s worth, they weren’t that hard on Future’s album as they were with Kendrick’s.
And if Black folks can say that about their own, what are white people supposed to believe? It’s a dangerously fine line between caring and harpooning your own culture. We have to be careful with how much energy we put into tearing down our own versus tearing down those who truly are exploiting us.
Let’s be honest, is Chi-Raq as dangerous as a modern day Blaxploitation film like Snow In The Bluff? I don’t recall seeing as many biting criticisms for that film as there are Chi-Raq. And if you were critical of both, kudos to you.
If you want to be mad at someone, don’t be mad at Spike Lee. Be upset with the public school system in Chicago that continues to fail the youth. Be up in arms with gun laws that continue putting high-powered firearms in the wrong hands. Get pissed that this country continues to provide aid for every other country while the most downtrodden areas populated by people of color are ignored. Hell, go ahead and look in the mirror and ask yourself what you are doing for your community and whether you have consumed yourself more with Spike Lee’s film than the alarming rate of unarmed Black men shot down by law enforcement.
If you have been outspoken about all of the above, this isn’t about you. But if you have strayed from writing/tweeting/blogging about the current state of affairs and put a lot of energy in taking a sh*t on Spike Lee, you might want to check yourself at the door.
Spike Lee, at the very least, deserves more than a kneejerk reaction to a film that most of its critics haven’t even seen yet.