Chi-Raq06 Dec 2015
CHIRAQ defies a simple good/bad review. It even defies a see it or skip it recommendation. If you follow the gun debate in the US, if you know about Chicago’s violent crime epidemic, if you’ve heard of Englewood, you’re probably not its target audience. This film, as my best guess, is intended to introduce a new audience to the lives of the South Side (and by extension Baltimore, DC, Brooklyn, Compton, and so on). At times it goes too far by imagining the streets of a neighborhood caked in the blood of slain children. Other times it shows a funeral proceeding in a large black church, where a saint-like white preacher gives an impassioned, informed, deeply effective speech. It tries mightily to toe the line between realism, satire, comedy and social commentary.
And it does this all while interspersing scenes of comedy, sex and music. Lee’s choice to make this a satirical social commentary makes it difficult as a viewer to really get a grasp around what is art and what is social commentary. Should we give him some leeway (pun intended) in his imperfect depiction of gang members, or grieving mothers, or shots heard on a street during an afternoon conversation, or a shootout in a Wicker Park club? If there’s artistic freedom needed there, what about when he veers into areas where he introduces the history of public housing, joblessness and lack of public resources in the South Side? That mix succeeds sometimes, and it fails at other times.
My hope is that audiences see and talk critically about the sexual politics of the movie (about which there is much to say), but ultimately focus on the gun and violence issues. CHIRAQ succeeds almost equally in its discussion of violence and gun control as it fails in its ability to treat men and women fairly, as sexual citizens.
In many ways, CHIRAQ is a direct result of the person Spike Lee is. It is brash, outspoken, knowledgable, funny, eye-roll-worthy, shake-my-head-worthy, but says things we need to hear. In 1989, Lee made DO THE RIGHT THING, a film which remains current despite its age. CHIRAQ is its worthy, but lesser, companion.