Chi-Raq | Dolemedes, Narrative, and the Signifying Monkey

The character of Dolemedes functions in the film as a narrator and a one-man Greek chorus, who gives us information about the characters and seems to tell us how we should react to the events unfolding on screen.

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He stands outside the narrative of the film, and his authority to give commentary on the action comes from his extra-narrative abilities, like when he summons up a police officer and a gang member to illustrate the two violence structures that Black communities in Chicago and other cities find themselves trapped in.

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He can freeze time in the club:

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And casually perch on top of an army tank while the soldiers and police remain oblivious to his presence:

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In fact, the only character in the film who talks directly to Dolemedes is Lysistrata, who waves to him as she walks by early on in the film. This speaks to what we discussed about Lysistrata being a mythical character, seemingly without a story. Because she is able to see Dolemedes and talk to him, she also seems to have extra powers beyond the rest of the film’s characters.

Lee reinforces this connection between Lysistrata and Dolemedes in a subtle way. In the scene of Lysistrata striding down the street, she waves to Dolemedes, but not quite – she throws up a peace sign:

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The peace sign is reciprocated in the final scene of the film by Dolemedes – “Peace, two fingers.”

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This small visual echo reinforces the idea that Dolemedes, far from being an objective, dispassionate narrator, is firmly invested in the ideal of stopping the violence – “No Peace, No Pussy”

This becomes complicated when thinking about how the character of Dolemedes came to be. The name is a riff on Dolemite, a character from a series of blaxploitation films (trailer here) from the 1970s, but with a Greek-sounding twist. That’s not where the inspiration ends, though. When Dolemedes introduces himself early in the film, he announces:

“Now I told you about The Signifying Monkey / And rapped about Shine / But this here tale of two cities / Is one of a kind.”

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These references are to the comedy routines of Rudy Ray Moore, who played Dolemite in the films. Moore adopted the exaggerated persona of Dolemite to great success in his comedy career. I looked up the routines that Dolemedes refers to – “The Signifying Monkey,” a story inspired by African folklore about a trickster monkey who convinces an elephant to attack a lion who had been cruelly bullying him, and “Shine and the Great Titanic,” about the adventures of the legendary Black deckhand who supposedly sailed on the Titanic.

It was fascinating to see that the style that Dolemedes speaks and rhymes in is almost identical to that of Moore’s Dolemite character. Check out the two routines here:

 

I found it fascinating that the narrator of Chi-Raq, who seems to articulate many of Lee’s views on gun violence, would also be heavily influenced by a 70s character who shaped many of the stereotypes of the Black pimp character in popular culture. What does it mean that Dolemedes is the only male character in Chi-Raq who both objectifies and sexualises women in his speech, but also stands on the side of their sex strike against violence? I saw this as possibly a self-aware comment on Lee’s clumsiness as a filmmaker with regards to gender politics, but maybe there are other interpretations. What do people think about this?

One comment

  1. I think it’s awesome that you found these connections. I have a slightly different interpretation. I don’t think that the inclusion of Doldemes and his dialogue are representative of Spike’s self-awareness, but more so a way for Spike to include a character who speaks to all sides. If Doldemes, a man, had been against the strike, it would’ve been too obvious of a bias, so I think the decision to make him a “straddler” (i.e. he straddles both sides) came from the need for a narrator who was not clearly siding with one side or the other.

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