Spike Lee’s ‘Chi-raq’ Movie Focused On Women Who Mobilize Together To Stop Gang Violence

chi-raq-movie-spike-lee

Films have the power to move, challenge and change us. Of course they exist to entertain and fulfill our escapist fantasies in some instances, but when a film or a documentary exists to comment on or examine a real life issue, there is immense power in the narrative being shared. That’s how we feel about the forthcoming Spike Lee film ‘Chi-Raq’ taking the central story line of an old Greek play and using it as a parallel to shed light on a very real and serious issue happening in one of the largest cities in the US.

Of course we’re talking about Chicago, and the high rate of gang violence and murders that have led it to be commonly referred to as “Chi-raq”, “a place that’s so bloody that some have compared it to bloody fields in and around Baghdad and Fallujah” writes Jarvis DeBerry from NOLA.com. The Daily Beast called Chicago “America’s mass murder capital” where in some areas it is less safe to live in than some of the world’s most murderous countries. The city has a homicide rate of 116 per 100,000 people. The world’s leader in murders, Honduras, has a homicide rate of 90, according to the United Nations, just to put it into perspective.

In fact the shootings and murders in Chicago have gotten so bad that there are people angry at the media for not paying more attention to it, as opposed to school shootings like we recently saw in Oregon. Residents are wondering when all the protests and national outrage is going to happen over the thousands of people that have been slain over the past few years. This is in line with what the Black Lives Matter movement are raising awareness about, specifically in relation to the spate of black men and women being killed by the hands of law enforcement around the country.

chi-raq-movie-spike-lee

Spike Lee’s new film may be a somewhat stylized adaptation of what is really happening in Chicago, but we believe it potentially has the power to ignite activism and change in unique ways. The Greek play it is based on follows the story of Lysistrata, a female hero who came up with a novel idea to help end the Peloponnesian War by mobilizing all the women to withhold sex form their husbands as a means of forcing them to negotiate peace. Spike Lee has adapted this into the setting of urban gang violence, where the partners of the men involved band together to come up with a plan to force these men to put down their guns.

The film stars Angela Bassett, Nick Cannon, Jennifer Hudson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Wesley Snipes and La La Anthony as the most recognizable names. Like the ancient Greek play, the main character’s name is also Lysistrata, played by Teyonah Parris in the film, and from the trailer the screen adaptation reminds us a little of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 adaptation of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, with theatrical aspects mixed with the dark and serious nature of the story.

We see the angst and desperation of women in Chicago who are fed up of the violence which has become commonplace in their neighborhoods and families, so they almost form an army of their own to stand against what the men are doing. The story is a powerful portrayal of female empowerment in the face of extreme and seemingly impenetrable gang violence. We are intrigued to see how audiences will react to how Spike Lee has given women the role of “savior” in this movie, where in many films, especially those focused on violence and gangs, women are not often the center of attention or certainly don’t hold many high stakes poker chips, so to speak.

chi-raq-movie-spike-lee

But if it seems like some far-fetched fictional fantasy, don’t be so quick to think that just yet. Whether Spike Lee took his inspiration from this film or not, we see some major similarities with the documentary ‘Pray The Devil Back To Hell’. That film tells the real like story of the Liberian Civil war led by dictator Charles Taylor, and the group of women, mothers and wives, who helped stop the fighting.

In Liberia, women were sick of the fighting and wanted the war to end. Activist Leymah Gbowee mobilized both Christian and Muslim women across the country, a powerful feat in and of itself if you look at that as a stand-alone issue, who went on a sex strike until their husbands stopped the fighting and negotiated peace. They protested, raised their voices and even participated in sit-ins and barricading government buildings where leaders and government officials were present and refused to move unless they came out with a peace agreement.

It worked, and Leymah and her community of activist women are also credited with helping elect the country’s, and indeed Africa’s, first female President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Leymah Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and today continues to speak at events around the world of the importance of sisterhood, collectively fighting against politicians that seek to undermine the welfare of people, and offering a unique view of how sex, prayer and community combined can be a powerful force for change.

chi-raq-movie-spike-lee

In Spike Lee’s ‘Chi-Raq’, Lysistrata teaches the women the mantra that she believes will impact the problem of gang violence: “I will deny rights of access and entrance.”

Although we are yet to see any form of sex strike happening in Chicago, there is one story that shows a glimpse of of what happens when women mobilize their communities to force change. Earlier this year a group of mothers staged their own version of a “sit-in” which has had a dramatic effect on the rate of murders in a particular area. After a shooting happened in Englewood, a low-income African-American neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, a group of moms set up lawn chairs and began camping out on street curbs and since then there hasn’t been a single shooting in the area.

The Trace.org reports on a woman named Tamar Manasseh who formed Mothers Against Senseless Killing (MASK) thinking that the watchful eyes of neighborhood moms could help prevent another shooting at the corner, which has long been a hotspot for gun violence. Englewood is reportedly in the top 10 list of neighborhood with high gun violence rates, where 40% of residents live below the poverty line.

Mothers-Against-Senseless-Killing-MASK Mothers-Against-Senseless-Killing-MASK

The women of MASK patrol a mile radius around the area on foot, and try to connect with local kids, holding barbecues and pizza parties and even teaching yoga. Tamar told Trace.org that their organization has made residents feel safer, as they also keep law enforcement accountable. With the ongoing problem of police killings happening around the country, this brilliant female activist believes police are also part of the problem and cannot solve gun and gang violence alone.

It is a simple yet powerful reminder of how everybody has the potential to impact their communities and neighborhoods. With the forthcoming release of ‘Chi-Raq’ as well as a new Indiegogo-funded documentary called ‘Ferguson Cover Up‘ by filmmaker Jason Pollock, which seeks to reveal the real and untold story of why Michale Brown was shot by Police. Already the film has been getting a lot of attention, including support from controversial documentary maker Michael Moore who tweeted the Indiegogo link to his fans.

It is films like this that will inspire, change and challenge the way we view what we see on the news and what is happening in our country today. We love that Spike Lee has chosen female empowerment as an important aspect of this film and we hope it will encourage many women to take action. Take a look at the trailer for ‘Chi-Raq’ below, which will be released December 4 in the US and is Amazon’s first original movie. It will get a theatrical release first (in the hopes it will qualify for the upcoming 2016 awards season) then become available on demand after.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.