After a very brief and very limited release in the U.S., Spike Lee’s new film went directly to Amazon Prime and video. As a result, I would, to this day, have no knowledge of Chi-Raq’s existence if it hadn’t been for my recent trip to Edmonton, where Deanna found it on one of her streaming services and recommended we watch it.
The little I was willing to learn about Chi-Raq sounded promising, so we started watching it. But after five minutes or so, I was ready to try something else. I mean, I just don’t care for rap and I was getting the idea that Chi-Raq was a rap musical (yeah, musical-lover that I am, I have problems with Hamilton too). I was correct in my fears, but luckily I didn’t voice my disappointment, and we kept watching. Eventually, I was blown away by this wondrous and magical mess of a film; Chi-Raq is guaranteed to have a place in my top-ten films of 2016.
Chi-Raq (a mix of Chicago and Iraq) takes place in the neighbourhoods of Chicago’s south side, where gang violence is spiralling out of control. When a child is killed by a stray bullet, a group of women, led by Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), decide it’s time to try something drastic to reduce the violence. The film’s poster says this strategy goes by the name “No peace, no piece”, but those are NOT the words used in the film (i.e. the last word does start with a p and does have four more letters, but the letters i, e, and c are not among them).
The story is based on the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, and on the women’s movement in Liberia which was presented in the great 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. In communities ruled by men, women can have a lot power if they chose to exercise it. In the case of Chi-Raq, the example of one community begins to spread around the world.
Among the other actors in Chi-Raq, we have Nick Cannon as Demetrius Dupree, Samuel L. Jackson as Dolmedes, Wesley Snipes as ‘Cyclops’, Angela Bassett as Helen Worthy, Jennifer Hudson as Irene and John Cusack as Fr. Mike Corridan. Cusack may be the only prominent actor in the film who isn’t African-American, but he gets some of the film’s best lines, including a sermon on guns that’s worth the price of admission all by itself.
Chi-Raq is an absolutely wild, fearless, out-there, quirky, musical satire full of brilliant dialogue and many wonderful things to say. It’s like nothing I have ever seen before and I loved it! An easy ****. My mug is up.