Chi-Raq | The Merits of Realness

“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”.

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Celebrating Black Women


One of the more frustrating things about Lee’s filmography this semester has been his treatment of black women. Going from film to film, he often reifies and reinforces the kinds of negative stereotypes about black women that plague the media and the popular American social imagination: hypersexual black women, angry black women, deviant black women. Rarely do the women in his films get to be at the center of attention for anything other than their bodies, and when they do, rarely do they get to push back against the limited and limiting spaces Lee puts them in. Chi-Raq promised so much, putting Lysistrata front and center on posters, on-screen, and in the plot, and then fell so far: Strata’s body and sexuality were featured as her most important attributes for a long time, the site of her power only her vagina and the denial of access to it.

Crooklyn was, in this respect, a breath of fresh air – focusing on Troy and her childhood, her subjectivity, her girlhood – and I can’t help but wonder how much of that was influenced by Joie Lee being one of the co-writers of the script, and Spike Lee a producer. I would say more, but Dani over on Blog 4 has written a beautiful post on why Troy and Crooklyn matter, and I encourage everyone to read it.

I also encourage everyone – and here I come to my main goal in this post – go to watch Lemonade. If, like me, you have grown frustrated about Lee’s portrayal of black women, or if you’re curious about what a raw, powerful, redemptive, honest, urgent, reclaiming, and human look at black women would be like, please go look at Lemonade. I could go on and on, but frankly I am not the person to speak about Lemonade – please click on any of the articles I linked to in the previous sentence, where amazing black women have written highly important pieces about it (thoughtful, potent engagements and critiques) – and please, if you can, go watch it (on Tidal’s free trial, because I know we’re all broke college students) for yourselves.

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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Chi-Raq | Father Michael

On another note, I was interested in reading more on the man Father Michael from Chi-Raq was based on. In case anyone else was curious, I’ll put up some of the content I looked at!

I felt the following New Yorker article was pretty comprehensive and painted a good picture of who exactly Father Michael Pfleger is and stands for. Though he is a strong anti-gun activist, he also fights for job and development projects in predominantly black areas in Chicago. His role in the neighborhoods he represents is very interesting, and he seems to be a very central figure in the push for gun control/economic reform in Chicago. He seems to be incredibly well received by his parishioners, and dedicated to his plight in rebuilding Chicago.

“We have an enormous opportunity to make some real changes in Chicago…The city needs an overhaul, not just the police.” He went on, “You drive through it, you see boarded-up homes, broken glass, closed-up businesses. And they’ll tell people, ‘Be hopeful!’ But you have to transform what you see. What do we do to make the South Side look like the North Side—and not just make it, demand it?”

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This clip of Father Michael addressing gun control issues, I found to be comparable to the character Michael Corridan in the film. I wanted to see if Father Pfleger has spoken about his portrayal in Chi-Raq, and found this image of Father Pfleger marching alongside Lee after the premiere in New York, so I’ll assume he was in favor of the character Father Micahel Corridan. 1106534_800x450



Chi-Raq| Women (Dis)Empowerment

The portrayal of women in Chi-Raq for me was pretty disconcerting. Though Lee tries to portray women as strong and independent, he reduces them to sexual objects. While he affords them the main role as the catalyst for change, he simultaneously suggests the women have nothing to offer besides sex. Sex is also often repeatedly talked about as only fulfilling for the men and the strike suggests they are entitled to having women please them. Much of Lysistrata’s motivation for the sex strike is also to keep the men safe, “… you wanna lose your man to a drive by?”(29:00)Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 2.36.53 PM.png

Even as both Lysistrata and Indigo’s men demean them and verbalize how easy it would be to replace them, they stand firm in their relationships with them. They are steadfast in these relationships with fairly verbally abusive men. The women are continually portrayed as nothing more than sexual objects for the man in their life and that seems to be reflected in not only how the men speak about them, but how the women talk to each other and about each other, referring to other women as “thots”, “whores”, etc. They are objectified and reducing themselves to having a single function, “No Peace, No Pussy.” They stay locked away with chastity belts for about 3 months leaving us to wonder if they have any other responsibilities in life. Do they have jobs? Does anyone go to school? What about the mothers? Is their only role as girlfriends or wives? Aren’t they bored??

Did anyone else share these concerns or feel that the portrayal of women in Chi-Raq was outrageous and demeaning?



Chi-Raq | Music

Throughout the film, Lee empowers women through their ownership of sexuality but at times undercuts it through the use of music. In the musical scene at 1:21.40, Lee utilizes the song “Oh Girl” which preaches the powerlessness of men without women in their lives, “Have you ever seen such a helpless man.” Though the lyrics place the power in the hands of the women, their behavior in response to the song demonstrates the opposite as they slowly succumb to the song.They were only successful in resisting the “stimulation” of the music through the assistance of ear plugs. The dependence upon these ear plugs emphasizes the inability of women to resist temptation set forth by men without outside aid. The ownership of women’s sexuality is the only consistent source of power for these women, yet the oversimplified “Operation Hot and Bothered” is nearly successful by men in taking that power back.

@blake199 @gbeecham18