In what seemed like a ‘straight to video’ situation, Spike Lee’s most recent film, “Chi-Raq,” came and went in theaters so fast that most never even knew it was out. Compared to “Straight Outta Compton,” which gained critical acclaim, big money and a healthy box-office life, Spike’s movie only acquired the critical acclaim part, and that was far from universal.
Many Chicagoans, about whom the movie genuflected, were simply not having it concerning the movie. Some wanted more graphic violence to show the real grit of daily street life in that city, particularly the South Side. Some wanted far less arty features—the movie was a satiric drama, a musical, and a hip hop lyrical concoction with big splashes of humor thrown in.
Satire is frequently lost on those unused to double-entendre, and Spike Lee’s movie had plenty of that. But the biggest problem, according to several sources, was the lack of any real marketing campaign for the movie. This was a first full-length feature for the new Amazon movie venture, and there was a noticeable absence of wheeler-dealers who knew how to get the word out far and wide. Most people simply never saw the movie, although those with Amazon Prime can still see it free, according to informed sources.
In terms of the quality of the movie, the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), founded in 2003 by Gil L.Robertson IV and Shawn Edwards, ranked “Chi-Raq” number seven on its top 10 list for 2015, after awarding “Straight Outta Compton” and “Creed” as its number one and two films. This association represents the type of Black aesthetic Jada Pinkett talked about in her misunderstood comments about boycotting the Oscars. The group actively reviews all cinema, but particularly focuses on films about the African American experience. AAFCA publicizes films that have widespread appeal in and to the Black community and constantly searches for films which are produced, written, directed and which feature leading roles for people of African descent. AAFCA members also support training students interested in film journalism and criticism.
AAFCA annually gives out awards for Best Feature Film, Best Documentary, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Foreign Film, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Song. Additionally, AAFC gives out an award for Special Achievement, previously won by luminaries like Jamie Foxx, John Singleton, and Spike Lee.
Some White critics, especially the well-known Amy Nicholson of MTV, thought Chi-Raq should have been nominated for an Oscar this year, and remains convinced that this movie is Lee’s best overall work since “Do the Right Thing.” Nicholson even said Chi-Raq was her number one ranked movie for 2015.
The movie is based on an ancient Greek play, “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes. The plot of that play was the organization of all of the women in Lysistrata’s village to refuse their husbands any sex as long as they continued to fight in the Peloponnesian War. In Spike Lee’s vision, a Black Lysistrata (newcomer Teyonah Parris) does the same thing in Chicago to stop the local gangbangers from shooting each other in an endless cycle of violence. It is an ambitious project that Lee said he hoped would save at least one youthful life. He said art and politics sometimes had to mix, and somebody had to do something about the weekly carnage in Chicago.
By the way, Chi-Raq is the street nickname for Chicago, combining the wartime Iraq with the name Chicago. There was a very big political fight between Chicago officials and Spike Lee over the use of that nickname in the film title. The politicians see the name as demeaning and embarrassing to Chicago. Lee won that battle.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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