Tis the season for “important” films, stockings stuffed with movies of the socially conscious variety. In that tradition, Spike Lee has made the ultimate Public Service Announcement. Set today, in South Side, Chicago, Chi-Raq is an adaptation of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, a 2,426 year-old play about women who go on a sex strike to end the Peloponesian War. 2,500 years later, war still exists, only its weapons have become more abundant, deadly, and efficient. Teyonah Parris plays Lysistrata, the girlfriend of Chi-Raq, a rapper and gang leader played by Nick Cannon. Chi-Raq’s embroiled in an internecine feud with a one-eyed, corny but deadly rival named Cyclops (Wesley Snipes). After Cyclops and cronies burn down Lysistrata’s house, she, using the wisdom of an older woman (Angela Bassett), rallies her girlfriends to start a sex strike to end the violence. Chi-Raq is a musical experience: most scenes are impregnated with some kind of score and the dialogue rhymes (“Every woman got a man bangin’ and slangin’ /fightin’ for the flag /riskin’ the long zip of that cadaver bag”). Opening with statistics that claim that more Americans have died in South Side, Chicago than in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the same period, Chi-Raq is overtly political. Though not politically correct: someone tells a prostitute about getting chicken and waffles after having sex, slurs and stereotypes are bandied about, and Clay Davis from The Wire has a cameo in which he utters one of his famous “Sheeits” upon seeing two men dancing together. Chi-Raq is a sermon—and at one point a pacifist preacher (John Cusack) delivers an actual sermon—against systemic oppression, the justice system, the NRA, and politicians. We can only hope Spike Lee’s not just preaching to the choir.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White