Tuesday, 5 January 2016

2016 Film Reviews: Chi-Raq - 'You know you done fucked up right?'

Brief Synopsis:

Spike Lee addresses Chicago’s black on black violence epidemic by turning Ancient Greek Comedy Lysistrata into a Minstrel Show for white folks

I’m a staunch believer in not commenting on films, books, visual art, music, until you have seen or heard them. When The Chi-Raq trailer came out and there was a huge amount of condemnation of it from the black community online - and rappers in particular I reserved judgement. I’ll be honest - I tried to give Spike Lee’s actually pretty condescending comments about people confusing 'Comedy' with 'Satire' a pass. And I'll be honest again - it was because to an extent I thought he might be right. I thought that he might be correct in assuming that an audience not so up on Ancient Greek plays - Comic or Tragic may not discern the intricacies of material as ‘high brow’ as work such as Lysistrata. Lysistrata is the ancient greek COMEDY that Chi-Raq’s plot is based on. BUT and there will be a lot of BUT(T)S in this review, as soon as I saw the trailer I felt instantly that the film was not going to work and would alienate the people who are not only it’s subject but whom it purports to support.

The first thing I saw was that the cast was - too old. The issues in Chicago with gun violence that make is so newsworthy are that it’s not only black on black crime but many of the perpetrators are so young - many in their teens, Yet the leaders of the two rival gangs are Nick Cannon and Wesley Snipes, that is not to say they could not have roles in the film - of course they could - but not those pivotal roles. Angela Bassett sassing all over the place isn’t going to reach any young minds - it all just seemed very off. Sam Jackson somewhat reprising his role from Do The RIght thing seemed incongruous in 2015.  The casting of John Cusack - well let’s get to that at the end...

So I listened to Spike in interviews put on his angry man shtick and act indignant about the criticisms, citing statistics and defending using the Greek play as a basis for the film. I listened perplexed as rappers involved in social movements in Chicago where they are from - claimed Spike was exploiting poor black people and I and thought say it ain’t so.

Then I watched the film. Spike - I’m talking to you now, Mr Lee - I get that you wanted to challenge thinking  - or rather I get that was your purported aim BUT Spike, Mr Lee - Lystista is not a historical document, it WAS a comedy - that's not how the Peloponnesian War ended!

One rapper claimed that Spike had the story for a while and couldn't get funding until he put into the context of the current events in Chicago, Hijacking the term Chi-Raq and harnessing the zeitgeist - hence the exploitation argument. Something having seen the movie I can now understand. The movie presents a picture that is extremely out of touch and seems quite bourgeois. I earlier alluded to a generational disparity in the film - specifically in the casting, my fears of this were compounded when early in the running time a ‘young’ female character refers to a rival as being a gang member’s ‘main squeeze’ - this dialogue in quickly followed up by the phrase ‘bust a cap‘ - this is the slang used by the ‘young people’ of the film.

I could really rip this film to pieces but I’m scared that might continue the cycle of black on black violence and I’m sure all involved had the loftiest of intentions and the sistas in it like fine as hell - I wouldn't want to upset them - but I’m gonna have to call bullshit and finish off like this:

Spike - you done fucked up - you know the right? (Bill Duke voice) You wanted the white establishment to like you and you finally achieved it. The white press loves this film - but most black people hate it. You thought I’m gonna use an archetype of Western literature as source material, belittle and berate the thugs in the streets killing babies - right alongside Fox News and 'The Man' would finally embrace you - and he has. There’s a couplet for a Geto Boys song from 1990 called City Under Siege:

‘You’re goddamn parents are a trip,
The streets got your babies cos you’re full of that bullshit...'

The whole song describes what’s going on in these communities far better than this movie does. The whole song is less than 5 mins. In less than 5 mins I wanted to turn this movie off - I had to force myself to watch it.

Shame on you Spike, it looks like you finally Bamboozled yourself - you’re now more guilty of all the things you have a problem with Tarantino for than he is.

No comments:

Post a Comment