film spike lee chiraq chicago gun violence young pkg ctn_00005820.jpg
film spike lee chiraq chicago gun violence young pkg ctn_00005820.jpg
Now playing
Spike Lee's movie 'Chiraq' sparks debate
IMAX/Marvel Studios
Now playing
How 'Avengers: Endgame' shattered records in 2019
Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers
Sony Pictures
Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers
Now playing
See Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers in new trailer
Paramount Pictures
Now playing
Watch clips from the new "Top Gun" movie
Universal Pictures
Now playing
Watch stars in the new 'Cats' movie trailer
Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images/Amazon Studios
Now playing
Actress admits to playing 82-year-old man
Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's "Vice."
Greig Fraser/Annapurna Picture
Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's "Vice."
Now playing
Actor stuns in Dick Cheney portrayal
Now playing
Gerard Butler cancels Saudi Arabia trip
Now playing
How Disney turns old stories into box office gold
Now playing
The Marvel model for success
henry cavill superman mxp vpx_00000114.jpg
Warner Brothers
henry cavill superman mxp vpx_00000114.jpg
Now playing
Henry Cavill's role as 'Superman' in question (2018)
Now playing
How Netflix is everything to everyone
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
Now playing
'Smallfoot' turns Bigfoot legend upside-down
Actor Geoffrey Owens is responded to criticism over his job with Trader Joe's
Bennett Raglin/WireImage/WireImage
Actor Geoffrey Owens is responded to criticism over his job with Trader Joe's
Now playing
Job-shamed 'Cosby' star lands new job
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 27:  Jane Fonda wears Chopard at the Sydney Opera House on August 27, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Caroline McCredie/Getty Images for Chopard)
Caroline McCredie/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images for Chopard
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 27: Jane Fonda wears Chopard at the Sydney Opera House on August 27, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Caroline McCredie/Getty Images for Chopard)
Now playing
Jane Fonda opens up in new documentary
ethan hawke amanpour_00000123.jpg
ethan hawke amanpour_00000123.jpg
Now playing
Ethan Hawke on 'Blaze' and the 'first time' he acted

Story highlights

Spike Lee films a drama in Chicago with an all-star cast under a working title of 'Chiraq'

The new byword speaks to Chicago's violence and merges Chi-town with Iraq

Chicago mayor is 'not happy' and wants Lee to change the working film title

Chicago CNN —  

Violence in this great American city matures so notoriously that film director Spike Lee now purportedly seeks a new nickname for the Windy City: Chiraq.

The name merges Chi-town with Iraq – as if Chicago sinks like the godforsaken Iraq, a hopeless war zone to the world.

The label signals a long fall for Chicago, whose official motto is the elegant “Urbs in Horto,” or “City in a Garden.” Once upon a time, Chicago even inspired poetry when Carl Sandburg declared it the “City of the Big Shoulders.”

But “Chiraq” is another story altogether for America’s third-largest city.

It’s a relatively new byword, and it’s now reportedly the working title of a drama that Lee is filming in the most violent neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side and elsewhere in the city.

The very name has ignited a political firestorm, especially in City Hall, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others dispute any suggestion that Chicago is home to gunplay and death.

Some of Hollywood’s biggest names

On the other side of the dispute is an all-star Hollywood cast in Lee’s movie: Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Jeremy Piven, Wesley Snipes, Nick Cannon and even South Side native and songstress Jennifer Hudson, according to

Not surprisingly, Lee’s latest film polarizes Chicago. Lee is no stranger to provocative film making.

Many officials in Chicago want a Hollywood edit to the working title.

Cut it and create a new one, they say.

“I was clear that I was not happy about the title,” the mayor said about Lee. “I told him also there are very good people that live in Englewood who are raising their family. There are a lot of positive things that are happening in Englewood.”

Englewood is a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Singer Hudson is said to be a native of that neighborhood.

A ‘deeply troubling’ name

Alderman William Burns represents South Side neighborhoods next to Englewood, and he is so angry that he wants to see a reversal of tax credits given to the film.

“The name itself is deeply troubling,” Burns said. “They don’t view their neighborhood as Chiraq. They view it as Auburn Gresham or Englewood or Hyde Park or Kenwood, and they’re very proud of where they live.”

Gang members purportedly gave the city the nickname, Burns said.

“If you really want to stop the violence, you got to create living wage jobs. You got to create hope in these communities, and that means you have to get people to invest in those communities, and if the brand for those communities is ‘Chiraq,’ would you want to risk your capital? Would you want to take on debt to invest in a neighborhood called Chiraq?”

Lee: Artists must have no fear

For his part, Lee has been spending more time directing his cast on the streets of Chicago – the talk of the town, for now – than on responding to the controversy.

In a press conference in May, he indicated he has yet to announce the film’s title as “Chiraq.” A subsequent press release gave the working title a less traditional spelling: “Chi-Raq.”

“A lot of people have opinions about the so-called title of the film who know nothing about the film,” Lee told reporters.

“Artists I love, whether it be painters, novelists, sculptors, writers, musicians, filmmakers, actors … they hold a mirror up to what is happening in the world,” Lee said. “And they do that with no fear.

“If you have fear then how are you going to tell the truth,” Lee said.

Fighting for the next generation

Burns sees the dispute as a battle for the soul of a city – as well as those of its children.

“It’s vitally important that we try to protect the next generation of kids, give them hope, give them opportunity, so that they can contribute to society,” Burns said.

Recent headlines called Chicago the “murder capital of the U.S.” or “murder city” as the city continues a yearslong struggle with rising and falling homicide rates, especially in poorer, less-educated, black neighborhoods such as Austin and Englewood.

The FBI’s crime statistics in 2012 showed Chicago as having more homicides than any other U.S. city, with 503, even more than New York, which has three times the population.

CNN’s Ryan Young reported in Chicago and Michael Martinez reported and wrote from Los Angeles.