Once I heard of this project, I was so friggin stoked to see this flick! I love Melanated People and I love Spike Lee's interpretations of them. Watching his movies reminds me of reading and breaking down Shakespeare as I did in high school. Full of layers: symbolism, irony, tragedy, humour and even a soliloquy if you're lucky! His opening credits and the film alike, are always littered with politically colourful street art, historical black art, and fact.
Flashing a random piece of culture just long enough for you to look it up later. And it's just enough. For me, the movie was every bit as enjoyable as I expected, and some.
Let me tell you what i thought...
First off, this is a comedy. Not a drama. So although there are serious topics throughout the movie, the parts most likely to be criticized are satirical. Often lines are delivered entirely in rhyme almost like a feature length spoken word piece. Perhaps an attempt to engage the youth. Perhaps to point out that this is a tool WE created, to act as a sort of Above Ground Railroad of Information. Perhaps our intellectual property is being pimped and we're the hoe's. Enter Bamboozled.
So what is this movie about?
As per usual. The problem is the men, and the solution is with the women. Relax it's a joke. Kind of. *pause* The violence has gotten so out of control, that the women go on a pounany strike. The film talks about a number of issues with the main focus being black on black crime and the political unfairness of the police vs. gangs a.k.a. the melanated public. The other main theme is Sisterhood and Solidarity, or unity as a whole. These themes are expressed via an array of artistic visual imagery that truly puts the word "mass" in the forefront.
Spike based this movie off a Greek play Lysistrata and does well in holding a candle to the inspiration. I'm going to ahve to read/watch that now. Examples are a corner store where all the women are exiting, named "Deus ex machina" which translates to a character or thing that suddenly enters the story in a novel, play, movie, etc., and solves a problem that had previously seemed impossible to solve. Very slick Spike. Other Greek inspiration can be seen in costume and certain areas of set design. What's awesome is a lot of their stuff is based on African culture, bringing us back to the concept of "knowing your roots".
You can catch a few other times Egypt and Greece cross paths throughout the film, such as trading Trojans and Spartans for Crips and Bloods, and the transliteration from Lysistrata to a sort of modern Blaxploitated period piece. A powerful mural in the background of the portraits of Queens' past as the present day Queen Elders break down the power of a woman's sacred space and our impact on the world. Telling the story of a tribe of African women who form a Womens Peace Movement in their violent city, where they withhold from sex, until the men basically ackrite.
The Lead Queen is of course Angela Basset. Educated and Afro-Centric with her signature Afro-American-Sermon-Like twang literally reading the truth to the youth. Her character adds insight and depth to the film and acts as a sort of narrator along side S-Jack. who is yet again....Sam Jackson.
Lee continues to add splashes of Black History. John Cusak can be seen sporting a traditional African Scarf preaching loudly that "Mass Incarceration is the new Jim Crow" with a black Jesus behind him.
Church is always a part of Spike Lee movies. The dancers were eerily similar to the "Pocomania" seen in Jamaica or "Voodoo" in Haiti or New Orleans. Both of which have African roots. I find this slightly conflicting given how much he pushes Black history and culture, that he still prescribes to the notion Christianity. The black community has this everlasting reliance on the cross; seeking solace and hope in the very entity that ruined them. It makes me wonder how much of it is for the advancement of our people, and how much of that third eye is still shut. Perhaps the truth is more easily digested and more likely to be accepted as true when John Cusak says it. Similar to the way society tends to react to White Jesus. Similarly, I'm not sure if the confederate-draws wearing General subtly making reference to Barak Obama as a "Lying African" to show the opinion of his creed, or if its representative of Spike's personal opinions.
I read a few of the early reviews of Chi-Raq and found most of the criticism to be quite petty bringing up things like the fact there weren't any actors or musicians from any side of Chicago in the movie, or feeling insulted at the use of the the name "Chi-Raq" as a reference to south side Chicago, or that the movie strips black women down to nothing more than their sexuality. These particular sheep should listen closely to the dialogue of this film and do fact checking at every opportunity. In turn, end up with a plethora of new understanding and possibly anger.
People need to not be so critically sensitive of the title or surface imagery and make note of the ways in which other black folk attempt to educate and open eyes and create awareness. Seek to gain as much positive information as possible taking the best parts and leaving the rest. Instead of looking for ways to further break down what has already been torn and tattered. That doesn't raise our vibrations any higher.
As always I'm saddened that our serious voice can only be heard when wrapped in satire. But overall Chi-Raq addresses a myriad of current and ever-relevant controversial topics. Including the power of like-minded women, strength in numbers, organized thought, the politics of systemic oppression, the fraudulence of organized religion, the guise of Hip Hop as a form of artistic, personal and political expression and our enslavement to it. The contrast between protests held by non-melanated groups versus the organized non-violent melanated groups and the link between Corporate America and Systemic Oppression. From the human Sun/Moon balance, to faithfulness and commitment to the dismantling of the black man's concept of how to love. Spike Lee's Chi-Raq attacks the all around value of accountability, unity, education and how it all come's full circle. And of course, the movie's most important message; Wake. Up.
Nick Cannon is a main character, but doesn't matter.