Spike Lee's Approach to Gun Violence in Chicago: Satire in "Chi-Raq"
With terrorism threats on University of Chicago's campus this week and the recent resurfacing of the murder of Laquan McDonald, we are reminded how prevalent gun violence continues to be throughout the nation, but particularly in the city of Chicago. Chi-Raq, Spike Lee's newest film and the dark nickname given to the city for its high murder rates, uses satire to take a shot at gun violence in Chicago.
Many residents, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, took offense to the negative portrayal of the city in Lee's film, which employs satire and the Greek myth of Lysistrata to explore ways to stop the violence in the Windy City. Aristophanes' Lysistrata is about a group of Greek women that decide to starve their husbands of sex and intimacy unless they stop fighting. Lee's female leads also vow never to extend her "Persian slippers towards the ceiling." In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lee stated that his choice to use satire in the film was made with the aim of adding levity to the discussion of difficult topics. He defends his cinematic decision by asking why Jennifer Hudson, "who had three members of her family murdered, [would] be in a film that makes fun of [the problem of gun violence in Chicago]." However, many Chicagoans are offended not only by the negative portrayal of the city, but also by Lee's seemingly lighthearted approach to the topic, adding levity where levity is simply not warranted. While Lee presents the issue of violence in a unique way, it is perhaps too uncomfortably nested in Ancient Greek comedy to pay the respect to the lives that have been lost to acts of brutality. We are made too ready to laugh at a film that is entrenched in years of bloodshed.
For Lee, the film is a call to action, and goes hand in hand with the Black Lives Matter movement. In the LA Times, he says that he intended to get people thinking "about guns in this country. We're not talking about taking people's Second Amendment rights away but more thorough background checks, titling guns like you title a car, voting for politicians who don't get contributions from the National Rifle Assn. We've got to do something." In any case, the film has made a statement; because film carries so much weight in society and in mass culture, it has responsibility. While "Chi-Raq" has approached gun violence in the Chicago with unwarranted levity and satire, it has made ripples in the film world and in the minds of the consumer. It has made people talk.