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Spike Lee's movie 'Chiraq' sparks debate
02:28 - Source: CNN

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Critics say Spike Lee's movie "Chi-raq" trivializes Chicago gang violence

Chicago has seen a surge of shootings and homicides in 2015

CNN  — 

Filmmaker Spike Lee, no stranger to controversy, is under fire from critics who say his upcoming movie, “Chi-raq,” trivializes Chicago gang violence as the city reels from yet another rash of shootings – including the slaying of a 9-year-old boy.

A new trailer for “Chi-raq” reveals that the film is a satire about women in contemporary inner-city Chicago who join to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and boyfriends as a way to force them to put down their guns.

The movie is loosely based on “Lysistrata,” Aristophanes’ classical comedy about women in ancient Greece who take similar action against their men to negotiate an end to the Peloponnesian War. Its title is a mashup of Chicago and Iraq, suggesting that some city neighborhoods are like war zones.

“Welcome to Chi-raq: land of pain, misery and strife!” hollers an ebullient Samuel L. Jackson, acting as a one-man Greek chorus, in the trailer for the film, posted online Tuesday.

But the trailer’s comic tone has rubbed some viewers the wrong way, especially in Chicago.

“Because sexualizing and making a comedy out of Chicago’s gun violence and labeling it ‘Chiraq’ isn’t the way to go. AT ALL,” tweeted Thelonious Martin, a Chicago hip-hop producer.

“From the trailer alone it feels like Spike Lee sold his own people out to make a film centered around an issue that is very real,” he added in another Twitter message.

“While that dumb ass Chiraq movie is out people will be going to funerals and burying their loved ones!” tweeted another Chicago man, a self-described entrepreneur named Pharaoh R. El-Aton.

Although violent crime in Chicago has declined over the past decade, the city has seen a surge in gun violence in 2015. As of Wednesday, according to the Chicago Tribune, there were 421 homicides in the city this year, compared with 435 in all of last year. And the number of shootings this year – 2,587 – has already matched the total for all of 2014.

The city was horrified when fourth-grader Tyshawn Lee, 9, was found dead in an alley Monday afternoon with multiple gunshot wounds to his upper body. Chicago police are investigating whether the boy may have been targeted and not the victim of a random act.

Lee, whose racially charged films such as 1989’s “Do the Right Thing” – about racial tension in a Brooklyn neighborhood – have sometimes polarized audiences, says his critics should see “Chi-raq” before passing judgment.

“It is possible to address a very serious subject matter and still have humor. I’ve done it before. ‘Do the Right Thing’ was serious as hell. It was so serious you can still show that film today – it’s still contemporary. But ‘Do the Right Thing’ was also funny as a motherf***er,” he told Chicago magazine in a recent interview.

“There are many examples – music, plays, novels, movies – where humor has been injected into very serious subject matter,” he continued. “So people need to relax. They need to stop thinking I’m gonna make light of the loss of life. Please. Calm down.”

Filmed in Chicago last summer, “Chi-raq” will get a limited release in theaters December 4, followed by a streaming release on Amazon Instant Video. Its cast includes Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Jennifer Hudson, John Cusack, Angela Bassett and Wesley Snipes.

The movie’s title attracted criticism last spring from many in Chicago, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who complained that it maligns South Side neighborhoods such as Englewood.