So…..I didn’t love the new Spike Lee movie, “Chi-Raq.” I’m still trying to figure out if I even liked it. Ta-Nehisi Coates pinpointed some of what’s wrong with the initial premise. Now that I’ve seen the controversial film, here’s a quick overview of what didn’t jive:
1. To be clear, I haven’t read the source text, Lysistrata, but the premise of a sex strike is corny. Even if it is ancient Aristophanes.
2. John Cusack as an urban priest. I read his character was inspired by real-life Father Michael Pfleger, a vocal ally of Black Lives Matter, but Cusack was an odd and uncharismatic casting choice. During the whole movie I was wishing it was anyone else playing his role. I’m not the biggest Jessie Jackson or Louis Farrakhan fan, but a movie about inner city Chicago that includes Black theology has to give them a nod, right? Nevertheless, I’m sure Denzel’s understudy is only one phone call away. Viola Davis’s is two max. Everyone knows you can always reach Meryl Streep on the main line. Kanye West knows what’s up when that hotline bling.
3. The film tried too hard to entertain whenever it wasn’t bludgeoning us over the head with its foregone message. I might’ve called the whole thing righteous (and at times even minstrel) but those criticisms are strictly reserved for Tyler Perry. And we all know how Spike Lee feels about Tyler Perry. #TeamSpikeLee #Loyal
4. Wesley Snipes in his role as a fledgling podunk gang leader. Jesus didn’t pay for all his federal back taxes sins for Wesley to mumble 1970s ad-libs and make unnecessary gestures in a bunch of unrehearsed scenes for a character whose arc goes nowhere fast. We’ve reached….
5. The climax. Cinematically. Which was also, quite literally, the peak sexual climax. Spike’s (or Aristophanes’s) metaphors, they can’t stop won’t stop.
6. That a film would invoke thuglife’s fatalist mantra, ad nauseum, yet give no explanation as to how Wesley’s old ass evaded both known outcomes (death or incarceration) to become the final O.G. Unless, of course, Wesley and Spike overestimate what they can get away with in this hi-def/hi-res two-thousand-and-fifteenth year of our lord. Which means they also haven’t heard about Sylvester Stallone’s stellar performance in “Creed.” Or how “Creed” director, Ryan Coogler, paid beautiful tribute to an unyielding city. Either way, definitely go see “Creed” it’s wonderful. #TeamRyanCoogler #iAintLoyal
7. Jennifer Hudson. Never. Stops. Heave. Crying. Even when she’s not really crying #phantomtears. Which sounds insensitive considering her character’s grief and Jennifer’s own real life tragedy losing her mother, brother and nephew to senseless gun violence. But I heard once that grief has seven different ranges and I just would’ve liked to see Jennifer’s character stretch through a clean one and a half of them. No more than two.
8. Chicago’s gang violence (and universal urban violence) being reduced to misbehaving cis-gendered heterosexual black men who make poor dick-cesions. Which is pretty much what white supremacy says about men of color, anyway. Which is the opposite of what I wanted Spike Lee to say in a film about issues plaguing the inner city in a movie that lives in 2015. “Lysistrata” is a flatland whereas Chicago is the Appalachians. Unless Spike can turn molehills into mountains on this hood safari then he’s leading us down the wrong path. Unless we aren’t his intended tourists. Bloop.
9. Placing the burden on cis-gendered heterosexual black women to discipline our men by withholding sex before the system does all of that for us. Which is pretty much what white supremacy and patriarchy expect of black women and our no good men, anyway. Which is not at all how I imagine Michelle Obama maintains her longtime Chicago marriage or persuades her Chicago husband to cool it when his Chicago trigger finger starts acting up. I’m just saying. Seriously though, where are the queer folks at.
10. The male gaze towards feminism: Spike Lee saturates this film with 3D images of a hyper-sexualized, albeit beautiful, Teyonah Parris. Nick Cannon’s character once relives walking in on his naked mother straddling a man as she’s “making” their rent money. The film’s premise conflates eroticism and sexual manipulation with agency and empowerment. It meanwhile never bothers to reckon with notions of consent or sexual violence (both were consequences in the Liberian study the film borrowed from). Its lazy. And, Spike Lee never tempers his female characters’ sexuality with fuller human qualities. For all of the movie, women are relegated to swishing their hips, throwing their legs back, or yelling out about some pussy being on lock down. I’m surprised there weren’t bras burning.
BONUS 11. The ending is basic af. Unless you’re a murderous gang-banger, in which case Spike Lee implores you to turn yourself in, there is no existential work to be done after the credits role. Dassit. Problem solved. Someone get Spike in touch with Rahm Emanuel, ASAP. They need his pen to re-write Rahm’s whole mayorship. #MidasTouch
Did you see, Chi-Raq? What were your first impressions?