Don’t Shoot!! (The Messenger!)
I’m really looking forward to seeing Spike Lee’s Chiraq premiering December 4.
Chiraq parallels my novel Black on Black (on sale here at Lions Quarter!) in that both deal with gang violence in Chicago and both approach it as something we can do something about—if we’re willing to fight for it—rather than as some kind of hopeless, unavoidable tragedy.
The big difference, though, is that Chiraq is a comedy—that takes balls to attempt, and genius to pull off; I’m holding judgment on the last one until I actually see it.
The basic plot, so far as I understand it, is taken from an ancient Greek comedy called Lysistrata by Aristophanes. At the time it was written, Ancient Greece wasn’t really a country yet; rather it was a region filled with Greek-speaking one-city states and various power blocs of the same; and if they weren’t fighting off a common enemy, they were usually fighting each other. In short, a lot like the streets of Chicago, divided up amongst its gangs.
Lysistrata—“army buster” in Greek—and her fellow ladies (on both sides!) got tired of their menfolk always marching off to war, so they organized a strike: no more Naked Fun Time (If You Know What I Mean) unless they called off their silly war!
In Chiraq, a modern day Lysistrata and her girlfriends seek to bring peace to the streets of Chicago the same way, as exemplified by this poster:
That said, this film as already notoriously controversial. Aldermen and even the Mayor have tried to make Lee change the film’s name. They have called Chiraq “a slap in the face” to residents paying their taxes and working to overcome Chicago’s violent, crime-infested image.
And yet, as Lee insists, he did not come up with the name “Chiraq.” Rappers who live in Chicago did that. They use it when they sing about the almost unending, senseless crime and tragic waste of life that neighborhoods like Englewood must endure, seemingly without hope of solution.
This brings me to the third way my Black on Black and Chiraq are related: through our work, we both seek to bring national and local attention to this problem—a problem that is by no means unique to Chicago. Young people are losing their lives; some throw them away in nihilistic orgies of drugs, sex and violence; others—trying to make something of themselves, to break the chains of economic oppression—are falling to bullets almost always meant for someone else.
This problem is huge, but not hopeless. Human beings created this situation, so human beings have the power to remedy it, if we have the will. I can’t help but think that if the Chicago city government is so worried about the city’s image, why don’t they work with the people of Chicago and help curb—if not end—the violence that mars an otherwise truly beautiful city?
Till then, keep the peace—and get some popcorn ready!