Released: December 4, 2015
Story: Told through rhyme, this re-imagining of Aristophanes’s comedic Greek play Lysistrata moves the story to the modern day Chicago Southside. Nicknamed Chi-Raq by the inhabitants, the Southside is home to high records of gun violence, which rivals the number of soldiers being killed abroad. To stop the violence brought on by two warring gangs, our heroine Lysistrata (played by Teyonah Parris) bans together the women of the community (even the hookers, strippers, and phone sex operators) to put an end to it all. Her solution is to cut all the men off from sex until there is peace. Her boyfriend, a rapper nicknamed Chi-Raq (played by Nick Cannon), is one of the gang leaders and isn’t too keen to end the battle between him and the other gang leader played by Wesley Snipes. Determined to create peace, the women will go to any lengths to get the issue more media and governmental attention and to convince the men to lay down their guns. The men are also determined, however, to stop what they think is a ridiculous strike and to go back to their violent and drug filled way of life.
Thoughts: Spike Lee takes a satirical and dramatic look at the serious gun violence problem in Chicago’s Southside. Despite a couple funny scenes (one of which includes the hilarious Dave Chapel), the film is more stupidly ridiculous than it is humorous. The serious side of the film works a little bit. Spike Lee falls into the trap of telling a lot through dialogue and speeches and showing little. It just feels like I’m being given a lecture instead of being told a story.
The characters seem very one-dimensional. The best way to tell a story like this with important messages is to get your audience invested in the characters. I think Lee was concentrating so much on doiling out facts and statistics about Chi-Raq gun violence and being over-the-top that he forgot to flesh out the characters, who come off like parrots that are only there to spout information about gun violence. The rhyming dialogue throughout also serves to further distance me from the characters, because it made them feel fictional and less realistic.
It’s a shame I didn’t like this very much. It’s a crucial issue that should be talked about in this era of extreme gun violence. A drama laced with satire might have worked if Lee had shown me more and told me less, made the jokes funnier, and put more time and investment into the characters. It’s sadly a misfire, but I hope it can still get people talking about all the gun problems today.