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.

Dispelling the myths about black fathers

— In America, the perception is that the black father doesn’t exist. Negative stereotypes of black men persist, and people on the right blame the victim in cases like those of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

But if we look at the ground level, black fathers are there all around us. On the streets and in hip-hop culture, “the Block” is celebrated and used to describe a neighborhood. Black men, young and old, take pride in their hood. If you come to my block you will see black fathers and husbands celebrating with their wives and spending quality time with their children.

A couple of years ago when I was outside my home playing with my daughter, some of my fellow African-American male neighbors were also outside playing with their kids. It was almost a surreal moment as I begin to think that we were all young black men in our 30s, married, homeowners and taking care of our children.

Over the years, those commonalities created a brotherhood and bond between us that will last forever. It helps to dispel the myths and negative statements that are often expressed in and out of our community, like “there are no good black men,” “black men don’t take care of their kids,” or “black men abandon their families.”

Yet, before my very eyes, I was looking at this amazing image — young black men, with their kids, being playful nurturing fathers. One time, I took my daughter to a daddy-daughter event and again was inspired to see the abundance of young black men and their daughters having the best time. I realized that while we still have problems in our communities, there have for decades been black men who have been good men, good husbands and of course good fathers.

However, this positive picture is rarely shown. It’s an oversight that appears to prevent the constructive narrative from bringing changes to our communities. What we have is an institutionalized racism, which counters those images with negativity and perpetuates an idea that African-American men are no good, especially as fathers.

Now, there is some truth to the stereotypes. An article in the New York Times entitled “1.5 million black men missing” describes the disproportionate number of black men missing from everyday life versus their black female counterparts. Whether it’s due to early deaths, incarceration, homicide, heart disease or accidents, black men grapple with issues that result in more single-parent families. But there has to be another narrative countering this by showing the positive picture.

If we look at some statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we learn that:

  • Children under the age 5: Black Fathers prepared and/or ate meals more with their children vs their white and Hispanic counterparts
  • Children 5-18: Black Fathers took children to and from activities daily more compared to their white and Hispanic counterparts
  • Children 5-18: Black Fathers also helped their kids with homework more than their white and Hispanic counterparts

Positive energy begets positive results. And if positive trends like this can help dispel the myths of black fathers as irresponsible, then young African-Americans will know (whether they have a father in their life or not) that they can prove the myth wrong.

If this positive narrative is shown more, maybe and just maybe, those outside (and within) the African-American community will look at black men as human beings and not as rabble-rousers or criminals. Maybe the police, retail establishments, corporate America and our judicial system will then stop racially profiling black men.

It sounds naive and far-fetched but one thing is for sure: if we don’t show and share positive stories about black fathers, then the ugliness of institutional racism will prevail.

America and the world knows for too long the struggles plaguing African-Americans. Black men are associated with drugs, prison incarceration and gun violence. It’s time for America to learn about the other side of African American men — and it starts with telling and celebrating the amazing stories of all the great black fathers in our communities.

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.