“Chi-Raq” is, without a doubt, the film I discussed the most outside of class. From deep conversations with classmates to rants with anyone who would listen, I spent so much time
complaining talking about this movie. However, I never got around to blogging about it because I honestly didn’t think it was worth my time. This review accurately sums up almost all of my initial thoughts. However, with a few weeks of reflection, I’ve decided to attempt to formulate my rant in a productive way that seeks to explore and understand the real work of “Chi-Raq”.
My biggest issue with “Chi-Raq” was intensified after seeing Lee’s other work. Watching “Four Little Girls” and then “When the Levees Broke” highlighted Lee’s abilities to powerfully execute these emotionally charged films, and spotlight the absence of the work I wanted to be done in “Chi-Raq”. Of course, shedding light on gun violence is so important, and I was disappointed because I thought “Chi-Raq” and its messages would be immediately dismissed by audiences due to the format/plot. A documentary style film would’ve done justice to the families affected by violence in Chicago while also providing a space for further brainstorming for solutions. This argument was met with the idea that these two styles are apples and oranges and shouldn’t be compared. But it’s hard to overlook Lee’s body of work and ability to engage these incredibly important subjects.
In the spirit of remaining optimistic, I found that the best parts of “Chi-Raq” were the moments that utilized the “real”. I was moved by John Cusack’s performance, and then upon learning that his character was based off a real figure from Chicago, Father Mike Pfleger, I soon realized why. Lee calls Pfleger the “point guard” and “facilitator” behind Chi-Raq, and including these real elements did help (somewhat) to salvage the film. The film requires the presence of the real to add the gravity necessary to recognize the weight of these problems.
This necessity for the real is underscored by Jennifer Hudson’s performance. Chi-Raq’s audience likely has knowledge of the heartbreaking loss of Hudson’s mother, brother and nephew due to gun violence. This makes Hudson’s character all the more intense and emotional. Lee finally offers a space for the voices of real victims to be heard, even if it is in a fictional setting.
These few, effective moments of the “real” force me to continue to question what the film would be if it had been a documentary. However, they do allow me to accept “Chi-Raq” for what it is and appreciate the “bright spots”. These moments of real ground the viewer and do shed light on the crucial matters at hand. Even if “Chi-Raq” was not executed as I had hoped, it did still bring these issues to the forefront and facilitate important conversations.