Is Spike Lee overstepping with ‘Chi-Raq’ as movie title?


— If all the protests, Jesse Jackson appearances and Rahm Emanuel promises haven’t curtailed the systematic destruction of communities in my hometown on West and South sides of Chicago, then can Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” make a difference?

When I learned that Spike Lee was doing “Chi-Raq” I was skeptical. I thought, “Why would one of my heroes glorify a moniker that is associated with the destruction of Chicago?” Yet he has a history of groundbreaking films that changed America and the world and my own life.

From “Do the Right Thing” to “Malcolm X” to “School Daze,” these films inspired and introduced the world to the beauty and struggle of the African-American plight in America. On Chicago, I’ve tackled the story here to highlight the reasons for the social unrest that plague these communities of color. This is what “Chi-Raq” attempts to do in 2 hours and 7 minutes.

The premise of “Chi-Raq” is derived from the ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata” written by Aristophanes. The protagonist, Lysistrata, persuaded the women of Greece to withhold sex from the men until peace was restored, ending the Peloponnesian War.

The Lysistrata of “Chi-Raq,” played by the amazing Teyonah Parris, is in love with aspiring Rapper Demetrius “CHI-RAQ” Dupree played by entertainment mogul, Nick Cannon. She is disturbed by the bloody war between his Spartan gang and the rival Trojans, led by Cyclops played by Wesley Snipes, and petitions women to swear off sex with men until the violence ends.

If you want to see a film with a message, humor and entertainment … go see it.

Yet there’s nothing humorous about what’s taking place in Chicago. John Cusack’s character, Father Mike Corridan, said, “Guns have become part of America’s wardrobe.” In the first nine months of 2015, 2,321 were shot in Chicago. This same period saw 440 homicides, making Chicago America’s mass shooting capital.

“Chi-Raq” is a term coined several years ago by Chicago rappers illustrating the wave of violence that rivals that of war-torn Iraq. Did Spike Lee have to use this name?

Chicago rapper and activist, Rhymefest, said Lee owes Chicago an apology because the movie is not authentic and exploited poor people.

And when I saw Lee selling “Chi-Raq” shirts, hats and sneakers via his social media handles it didn’t help in disproving that sentiment.

To be fair, he did consult with arguably the greatest Chicagoan — Father Michel Pfleger, who has done more for the city than most elected officials in decades.

This year, the world witnessed the worst of Chicago violence including: the gang execution of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee and then the 2014 police killing of an African American teenager, Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times by police Officer Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke emptied his pistol and reloaded as McDonald lay on ground during the barrage. Speculation is that the video, which was made public last week, of the McDonald shooting was withheld until after the election so that the mayor would not lose the African-American vote.

Spike Lee is attempting to spark change. He didn’t create the environment on the South and West sides of Chicago.

If people are upset, be upset at the corrupt school district that in 2015, closed more than 50 schools and is proposing to close even more, leaving kids, parents and teachers displaced in a city that can’t afford any more displacement. Yet, the district funds charter schools, which are independently run but receive public money and often raise private funds.

If people are upset, be upset at elected officials that sold off Chicago piece by piece to the highest bidder. This created one of the greatest modern gentrifications in America, further dividing what is already one of the most segregated cities.

If people are truly upset, WE must be upset at ourselves…especially African-Americans. The blueprint for our demise is in front of us and we continue down a path of no return. On MSNBC I said, “If we can’t save our young parents, then we can’t save our kids.”

As parents and grandparents, we dropped the ball, allowing the foundation of family and home to crumple. Our kids have no foundation and are being raised by negative forces that have created what is known as Chi-Raq. We can blame the police, racism, sexism, lack of economic development, which are legitimate external factors. But, internally, we must be accountable for ourselves.

If we shut down the streets for Laquan McDonald protesting police brutality we must shut down the streets for Tyshawn Lee protesting our OWN brutality.

Chicago is one of the most beautiful places in the world, filled with culture, technology, architecture and history. But it’s also filled with pain, corruption, destructive politics and violence spreading like a cancer.

Aaron Paxton Arnold, an entrepreneur and lifestyle consultant, is the founder of MusicIsMyBusiness. He’s written for publications such as Forbes and Fast Company. Follow him on Twitter: @MrMIMB. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.