Movies

So I Watched Chi-Raq the Movie: My Review

Spike Lee has never been known for his subtlety as a filmmaker and that is surely not going to change with his latest movie, Chi-Raq. The title is in your face, and so is everything else about it.

Chi-Raq Movie Poster 2

It’s a film that has been drowning in controversy since it was announced, especially amongst Chicagoans who took offense to a film carrying that title. “Chi-raq” is the Windy City’s unwanted nickname, spurred by its murder statistics. Apparently, more lives have been lost in this city to gun violence than in the US military during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So Chi-raq is a bitter moniker and it is telling a single and incomplete story about the Second City.

People have not been silent about letting Spike know that they do not approve of his latest project owning that name. The trailers dropped and voices raised anew, pissed that he dared to do this. But never has Mr. Lee gave a damb about people’s feelings. He is committed to the art he wants to make and he will see it through. Which, he did.

I went to the Chicago premiere of Chi-Raq at the Chicago Theater on Sunday, November 22. If all that wasn’t “Chicago” enough, the outfits that people had on surely were. People showed up in all manners of fur, and the full-length joints with the matching headgear were in full effect. Why? Because we cannot be outdone. It was so Chi that I got bashful. And my double-breasted pea coat did not measure up.

The lights went down in the theater, and the movie started with a 3 minute long rap called “Pray 4 My City” on a black screen with lyrics in red, talking about the violence in Chicago. You knew what you were in for. Spike is just unable to subtle. He be subtlety-deficient. There is no guessing with him. You KNOW what the message is because not only does he beat you over the head with it, he will make you an mp3 file so you can listen to it as you take a concussion-induced nap.

Beat Dead Horse gif

Chi-Raq is inspired by a Greek play called “Lysistrata” about a woman who leads other women on a sex strike to end a war. This film places the premise on the southside of Chicago, where warring gangs are claiming innocent victims. Children are being gunned down on the streets because 2 gangs (the Trojans and the Spartans) can’t keep the peace. A woman named Lysistrata (played by the dope Teyonah Parris) is the girlfriend of the leader of the Spartans. His street name is Chi-raq (real name: Demetrius) and he is played by Nick Cannon. She decides to get her fellow women together and shut shit down on the bedroom front for the greater good with the chants “No Peace, No Pussy.”

I am giving nothing away here. This is all in the trailers that dropped.

Can we talk about the fact that Nick Cannon played the thuggiest dude in the film? That is how you know this is satire. Mariah’s ex got about as much street cred as Verne Troyer. He committed to it, though. I just had to keep myself from chuckling when I’d see his mean mug. It was adorable. Oh and Wesley Snipes plays the leader of the Trojans. He goes by “Cyclops” and he rocks an eye patch. It’s hilarious.

There’s also a narrator who shatters the 4th wall and tells us what is happening. His name is Dolmedes, and he is played by the blackest person ever: Samuel L. Jackson.

chiraq-samuel-l-jackson

He also wears the finest of Steve Harvey 3-piece pastel suits throughout. Orange, green, yellow, purple. K&G must have supplied them. Whatever message you might have missed, Sam was there to remind you. Which brings me to the writing in this movie.

The script. It was really heavy-handed. Maybe I am to blame. Maybe it has been too long since I watched a Spike Lee production but my goodness. I caught myself laughing sometimes because it was like someone told someone else to write this so even 4 year olds could understand. Everything was explained and over-explained. But what irked me the most is that the characters spoke in rhyme. Like everyone was in a spoken word competition they didn’t inform us about. It was cute the first 5 minutes but by minute 30, when one sentence ended with “fun” and the other with “done” I was kinda annoyed.

What I really liked about this film was the collection of talented people in it, especially the women. Teyonah Parris in the lead was my favorite thing. She pops off that screen. Also, I need to know that lip color she was rocking throughout the film. That matte purple is a star in its own right. Her styling was impeccable. She was basically Foxy Brown incarnate and I loved it.

Chiraq Teyonah

Angela Bassett was in it, and she can do no wrong, in my book. Aunty Angie is a legend for a reason, and even she brings some comedy into this. And some cussing. Jennifer Hudson as a grieving mother was on point. Our girl has come a long way since Dreamgirls and she brought layers you might not know she would have. Sadly, it might be because she’s suffered loss at the hands of gun violence too. Maybe she tapped into that.

John Cusack was also delightful and passionate in his role as Father Michael Pfleger (aka Father Mike Corridan).

There’s a bunch of Black glitterati cameos in here too. Dave Chappelle, Harry Lennix, Steve Harris (who I loved in The Practice). I kept looking for Clifton Powell, because he manages to show up in random shit but I was sorely disappointed. You cannot have a collection of Black folks in a movie without Clifton at least strolling past the screen. Come on, fam.

Chicago is home for me, and I HATE hearing people call it Chi-Raq. I hate it dearly. But I’ve stayed out the fray happening with the title of this film because art is supposed to push things to the edge, right? My problem with the movie has never been the title, because movies do tell that ONE story. Unfortunately, the one that Chicago is most known for currently is the murders and chaos. My city has a PR problem, and Spike is exploiting it. I understand the backlash.

Chi-Raq is a 2-hour lecture, and it is clear in its rebuke of the toll that gun violence has had on Chicago’s southside. It admonishes it, it wishes it could go away and it wonders how we can do it. We are told “This is an emergency” multiple times in case we didn’t get that. It’s a comedy that wishes it could be a documentary, and it wants us to WAKE UP.

I appreciate Spike Lee for his commitment to making grand statements about our absurd society with his films. I don’t always like his techniques but I am a proponent of using your art to say something that matters. No, I don’t think it offers much of a solution. Surely, the power of the P-U-S-S-Y ain’t the only thing we need to stop the violence in our marginalized communities. Although, Spike now suggests that women should try it to stop rapes happening on college campuses. We’re just going to say he was bullshitting on that because I can’t even.

Anywho, I honestly cannot tell you if I liked this film, because I haven’t even decided that for myself. I cannot figure out whether I liked it or not, which is odd for me. I was never bored, because visually, it is hella entertaining, and the soundtrack is also dope. But do I think it was GOOD? I don’t know.

Chi-Raq Movie Poster 5

However, I think you should go see it, if for nothing else, just so you aren’t left out of the loud conversations that will happen in the coming weeks because of it. Basically, I think you should go see it because: FOMO (fear of missing out). I’m curious to see how people react to it. If they will love it, hate it or be in opinion purgatory, like me. Either way, this film will have people talking.

Chi-Raq is in theaters on Friday, December 4. So you got a week. Are you gonna go see it? Are you boycotting? Lemme know.

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27 Comments

  1. Janel Johnson
    November 26, 2015 at 9:53 pm — Reply

    You lost me at Nick Cannon. Im probably going to see it anyway. The southside was my summertime hood since my Grandma lived around the corner from Rainbow. It was rough back then, but all pf5 my memories from there are good.

  2. November 27, 2015 at 1:43 am — Reply

    I’m a Chicago native that grew up in Atlanta, but my whole family is spread throughout the Midwest. I hate that people call my birthplace Chi-raq too. I think that trivializes the issues while making them seem much worse than they are. I’ve lost a cousin to gun violence recently and wasn’t going to mess with Spike Lee’s movie until I read about it being satire and based on Lysistrata. I’m interested so I’ll be going. We’ll see how it goes after I see it.

    • s'ann
      December 7, 2015 at 8:33 pm — Reply

      Don’t waste your money! It is just nasty!!!! The message is obscured in porn, sexual exploitation, and vulgar profanity. It trivializes a very serious problem. Very disappointed in Kevin Wilmont, a homeboy from Kansas, and Spike.

  3. Kisha
    November 27, 2015 at 8:38 am — Reply

    Not interested. Not going.

    I’m also a Chicago native. I just don’t see it as an issue that we can be satirical about in discussing it.

    It’s exploitation in a way that makes you feel just a bit grimy. I’ll keep my dollars in my pocket.

  4. Shannyn
    November 27, 2015 at 3:33 pm — Reply

    I live in Detroit, that other place people dog out like we don’t have any feelings, so I feel your pain. Spike is gonna do Spike no matter what. I’ll go just to see Teyonah in all her glory. Sam is gonna do Sam
    – The official ambassador of THE FEDERAL OF BLACKNESS. I’m glad actors got some work.

  5. SIPort
    November 27, 2015 at 7:17 pm — Reply

    Born and raised in Chicago. I will be going to see the movie.

    • s'ann
      December 7, 2015 at 8:28 pm — Reply

      Don’t waste your money! It is just nasty!!! The message is obscured in porn, sexual exploitation, and vulgar profanity. Trivializes a very serious problem. Very disappointed in Kevin Wilmont, a homeboy from Kansas and Spike.

  6. notconvincedgranny
    November 27, 2015 at 9:14 pm — Reply

    We live in a sound bite world; if it’s not dumbed down and put in a pie pan so it can be smashed in the next guy’s face, most people will refuse to get it. Lysistrata was a comedy, so I’ll expect some laughs to cushion a touchy subject. Let’s face it, y’all – clowns are so ignant these days they would shoot a woman who says she ain’t giving nuthin up so, nope.

  7. blackprofessor
    November 28, 2015 at 10:52 am — Reply

    Chicago born and bred! My brother said it was pure garbage! He went to an advance screening and screamed at the screen.

    I’m on the fence about seeing it because I am on the fence about Spike Lee. There are directors who could have done an excellent job on this topic like Fernando Meirelles, who directed City of God, or David Simon, who directed the Wire. Both of them demonstrated an understanding of complex issues without being preachy.

    • s'ann
      December 7, 2015 at 8:37 pm — Reply

      Your brother is right. Chi-raq is just nasty, nasty!! Straight up porn, sexual exploitation and vulgar profanity!

  8. November 28, 2015 at 11:54 am — Reply

    You actually kinda sold me on this! It sounds fascinating in a “I can’t believe what I just saw” kind of way. Plus, the cast? Angela Basset? Messy Snipes? Teyonah? Yes!

  9. November 28, 2015 at 9:44 pm — Reply

    I love some of Lee’s work and I hate some too. I have been waiting for this forever because conceptually it is intriguing, but from the trailer and your review I can see that this isn’t Lee at his best. In fact, after listening to his speech for his Honorary Oscar I wondered if he was at the end of his productive period as a director because he was totally incapable of a five minute speech. He rambled and was largely incoherent for an award he knew he was to receive, WTF!

    This is unfortunate if it bombs because it really could have delivered an important message about how the city got to this point and where it can go moving forward. And of course, there is also Iraq… Oh Spike, Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

  10. howlingbanshee
    November 28, 2015 at 10:20 pm — Reply

    I’ll probably skip this one. (Just like I skip everything else. My official address is Out of the Loop, Under a Rock).

    But Ms. Parris is stunning. That’s the only reason I’m really commenting. My jaw dropped at that picture of her in those shorts. #teamThickLegsForLife

  11. Ms Es Bee
    November 30, 2015 at 2:42 am — Reply

    I am always on the fence with Spike’s ORIGINAL movies. Malcolm X, Summer of Sam are movies I LOVE because he didn’t “create” them. He is hard to follow and LONG to watch. 2 hours bug me. So, just for those reasons, I will not see it. But I wish him well as I always do.

  12. blikbladoq
    November 30, 2015 at 2:42 am — Reply

    No Punani, No Peace…

    maybe I’ll DL the soundtrack when it drops.

  13. Mzmiamiheat
    November 30, 2015 at 6:47 am — Reply

    When I found out what the basis of this movie was I made up my mind, I won’t be seeing it until I have a Redbox and Chill night. I just don’t believe all the thotties of the world would help in this dilemma. I believe that’s when their stock would really rise because the dudes that say they won’t pay for it will probably rethink it in a drought.
    Anyway, Spike Lee, so no standing in line at a movie theatre to see it.

  14. Makeba
    December 2, 2015 at 4:24 pm — Reply

    I can’t get behind that first single WGDB. That line, “we’re the only race that shoots and kills themselves” still enrages me. I can’t stand internalized, “massa is we sick” respectable bullshit. The fact that that song was picked as the lead single let me know that I prolly have no business in that theater because self-care.

    Also, in this rapey ass society, how is the only real solution on the table dependent on women refusing to have sex?

    Nope.

    • s'ann
      December 7, 2015 at 8:48 pm — Reply

      The celibate vow between the women was pointless. The ring leader caves in. It’s purely sexual exploitation.

  15. Enoch
    December 3, 2015 at 9:47 pm — Reply

    I’m not sorry if Chicagoans are offended by the title, it’s well-deserved. I’m from Chicago, but moved to NYC years ago. Chicago has a bad reputation, and for a good reason. I have family all over the city and I lived in the South Loop, Gold Coast, and Lakeview. I was assaulted, my brother was robbed, my cousins have been jumped. It’s sad, but I’m embarrassed to tell people where I’m from. If you don’t like the negative press, do something about it.

  16. me3
    December 7, 2015 at 12:58 pm — Reply

    Born and raised in Chicago and I will be seeing the film. Why not? Spike is good at being controversial and this movie, in my humble opinion, is not to be liked. This is not for entertainment purposes. He’s taking advantage of a few controversies to get people talking about the issue. I don’t really care if people like the movie, and I don’t know that Spike cares either.

    I just hope the right conversations start happening in order to move to some change. If that happens then Spike can take the heat otherwise. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  17. Old Lady
    December 7, 2015 at 2:21 pm — Reply

    First, I live in Chicago, I’m from Chicago, from the South Side, have attended a service at St. Sabina, I’m over 40, have seen most of Spike Lee’s films, and read this play in college. This movie was terrible. The script was terrible. The acting was marginal. What did you do Spike? Where did you go? You didn’t trust the source material. Why did the main character have to read about a sex strike in a play if she was named after the main character in the play? Why couldn’t she have come up with the idea on her own? If she read about this play, couldn’t the men have read the play as well? Wouldn’t they have known how things would turn out? Why are all the black men bad and the white man the savior? He is literally white Jesus in this film. Really Spike? Why did I feel like I sat through someone reading a two hour PowerPoint presentation? Why did you have Angela Basset say, “The Cabrini Green”? We don’t say that here Spike. Who edited your script? Why are all the young women simple and the older women sexless? Why do the black men talk to the black women so poorly? That was terrible! On my death bed I will wish for the two hours I wasted watching this movie.

    • Mikki
      January 31, 2016 at 5:46 pm — Reply

      LOL, so I take it you’re not a fan. Poor Spike…aka Lil Tink Tink.

  18. CC
    December 8, 2015 at 11:13 pm — Reply

    Ok. So I just saw Chi-raq and second everything u said! I left the movie unable to speak and not because it was good but because I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Teyona looked fierce! But even at one point I got tired of her and how overly sexual het character was. The clothes and styling was on point though and I thought the same thing about that purple lip color. Somehow I managed to not read in your review that they rhymed the entire time! It was horrible…like a mediocre middle school rap battle that lasted for 2 hours. Surprisingly I don’t regret seeing it but I didn’t like it…

  19. Mary Burrell
    December 27, 2015 at 3:16 am — Reply

    I will have to wait until this comes out on Red Box or Netflix. I saw the trailer and it looked like a lot going on. Teyonna Parris is a stunning young woman. But from what you described I know I will not be standing in line for this. Clifton Powell says he can’t stand Spike Lee and would never work for him. I heard him say this on a radio clip from Russ Parr show or maybe it was Ricky Smiley Show. I will not go see this in theaters.

  20. AJK
    January 13, 2016 at 8:03 pm — Reply

    It’s spike lee!! Who gives a shit!

  21. Davina
    April 23, 2016 at 10:04 am — Reply

    I liked it. I thought mostly the reality of the characters was relatable. Was it nasty, yes a lot of sex, hardcore. I was just happy to see two black people having sex, though it wasnt making love, thats how most youngins have sex anyway. The black female characters could come together, even being rivals, they came together, and for once dick wasn’t in charge, the women made a decision and stuck to it. They were fighting for something more important than what we see black women on tv fighting over these days. Though i think women pussy striking ain’t the problem solver, cause of the thirsty women and gay men today. Women being able to see pass dick and call thier men out on something that has been terrorizing black communities won me over.

    • Neil Seletlo Whisler
      April 26, 2016 at 8:22 am — Reply

      Thaaaaank you. I was hoping one of these replies’d have some1 who GETS it. There is so much symbology in that “king kong” scene in the office it’s not even funny. There was L-y(ISIS)rata in the Queen stance when she wielded the packer thing. The general reverts to animalistic instinct and “falls” to his knees in submission. He thinks he’s in control tho. If u remove the literal, even tho she says “black steel” and he calls it “whistling dick” (actual name of the civil war cannon) it’s also a reversal of the crude urban dict. def’n that describes a sit. where female gets “got” in a pornographic way. I looked the term up to see if any meaning, and after the war pic next result was like “urban dictionary”. In any case, the poor old white male and the rich(spirit) young black(unknown, hidden, occult) female are put in the places opposite of where they’re usually seen in public eye. She uses her mind like her ancestors did, and everything else falls acc. to that, with the instruction of her elder, an ANGELa. She does not give in, but has things in control. The symbology of the gun is so twisted it’s not funny. Another “Long-D” to bust. Wash. Monument from “obelisks” in Egypt, Long-D. Damn near every weapon designed, Long-D. Arrow. Cannon.”Assault” Rifle.Semi-Autos.Pistols. And before we say in anger “that’s a stereotype” think of those brothas that got ones so big they don’t announce, or are ashamed. Mandingo bros. The unseen, hidden, and humble about it. Kings. They say “gangstas” move in silence yet what’s REAL is Kings that make moves for themselves in silence. Like the Royal(Purple One). Chose a religion that honors the secrecy of philanthropic humanitarian deeds. THAT’S gangsta, ownin yo own ish. But I digress.

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