Chi-Raq: “A real human being and a real hero” Pt. II

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Chi-Raq (2015) is a satirical musical drama movie signed by Spike Lee. The script is based on the classical Greek comedy play Lysistrata, which tells the story of a group of women denying sex to their husbands in order to stop the Peloponnesian War. The movie shines a light on another kind of war: the gang violence and black on black murders in Chicago, mostly in the Englewood neighborhood. The girls come together to end an old rivalry between two gangs.

In 2015, the murder rate in Chicago was almost four times higher than in New York City, but Chicago’s population is three times smaller than that of New York. Chicago has the highest number of homicides among cities with population of more than 1 million. Also, there are 100,000 gang members and only 12,000 cops. (Source: http://abcnews.go.com). Spike Lee has been highly criticized for this movie, especially for sticking to the name Chi-Raq, after many agreed it gives the city of Chicago a denigrating image. Spike Lee was urged to change the name but he refused, making it clear what the movie intends to address. The movie even begins with the song “Pray 4 My City” by Nick Cannon (playing one of the movie’s leads, Demetrius “Chi-raq” Dupree), containing the lines ”And ya’ll mad cuz I don’t call it Chicago/But I don’t live in no fucking Chicago/Boy I live in Chi-Raq”.

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(Nick Cannon as Demetrius ”Chi-raq” Dupree)

Demetrius is the leader of the Spartan gang, while Cyclops is the leader of the Trojans. Lysistrata is his girlfriend and the one who comes up with plan to try to end the violence. The movie shows images of crying mothers losing their children to street violence in which the two gangs are involved. Jennifer Hudson plays the role of a mother who desperately tries to make sense of her child’s death, her casting bringing more attention due to the fact she lost family members to street violence herself.

The Spartan girls come together with the Trojan girls in a highly tense meeting. But they soon realize the reality of the violence is shadowed by a silly competition between their men’s gangs. And so they decide that by denying them sex, they might succeed in making a point. Being blinded by the power and their war, men can’t take the women seriously. They can’t agree with women interfering with their business. So, the women of Englewood choose this path rather than letting them kill each other and also make victims among their peers. This approach may come off as silly for many people, but Spike Lee himself pointed that he didn’t want to undermine the problem’s dimension by making a satirical movie. Humor can bring people closer to a matter, as serious as it may be. It gives it life, can make a person laugh while also experience the tragedy of it.

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(John Cusack as Father Mike Corridan & Jennifer Hudson as Irene)

Naturally, men feel the hit after the girls decide to get to action, or rather stop the action. They protest in an unusual way, but also take it to the streets in the common fashion of the term. The protest is similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, but they come together against black on black crime. The men soon learn about how serious they are and how even the prostitutes are taking part. They now seem pathetic, weak and vulnerable, especially when looking back at the club scene, where a bunch of them dance with their own arms wrapped around themselves. Cyclops seems to be the one willing to step down, while Demetrius still won’t recognize to a recent crime or put an end to the story and accept peace.

Demetrius is reckless, flawed and an addict and he needs Lysistrata’s support emotionally as well as physically. She keeps her position. She is now the leader of an entire army and denies Demetrius any attention until he comes to his senses. The film takes a new look at the image of leadership and action. While Cyclops and Demetrius are becoming needy children with a bit of power in their hands, Lysistrata and the girls take it to the next level: the movement becomes global, women from all over the world take their example to end conflicts between men.

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(Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata)

After Cyclops gives in and acknowledges the useless attitude they have towards this matter, it’s up to Demetrius to truly end the war. Being stubborn and conceited, the Spartan rapper shows a passive attitude and doesn’t look willing to accept the agreement. They all sign a peace treaty, but when Lysistrata hands the pen to Demetrius, he walks away only to be confronted by the mothers holding photos of their dead children as a protest. Overcome by guilt and facing the facts of the violence, Demetrius collapses at Irine’s feet as he confesses to killing her little girl. As they take him away, he urges the others to confess to their crimes instead of standing there watching and, facing the camera, ”Bring the truth!” becomes a direct message to the audience. Lysistrata, watching the scene, tells father Mike ”That’s Demetrius, that’s not Chi-Raq”. The two work together in this scene. Demetrius makes it personal for the authorities and people denying Chicago’s delicate state, while Lysistrata points out that only after everybody takes the blame and starts making a difference, Chi-Raq will become Chicago.

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(Jennifer Hudson, Nick Cannon, Angela Bassett as Demetrius, Irine, Miss Helen)

Dolmedes (Samuel L. Jackson), the equivalent for the Greek chorus, has the last word as he congratulates Lysistrata and her movement and urges the audience to take note. She is praised for bringing peace. She is praised for making even the villains turn into heroes. She is still the main character in the end by pointing out to a new direction in her society – to love. The movie, not to forget the satire, gives women a new power, or a new way to use their power. That’s not just what women could use as some may think; it’s bigger than just refusing sex to a man in order to make him right. They fight for their community. Spike Lee played around with irony and humor and by using these simple resources he brought a big fat critique to the whole society. Not subtle, maybe cringe-worthy at times, but a point was definitely made. ”The only real security is love, ya’ll! L.O.V.E.!”

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