If Spike Lee were truly as infused with hubris as he might wish American consumers of film to believe he is, he would have asked two Chicago ministers, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to pray to their God for the success of Chi-Raq the film and for the end of urban violence in the city of Chicago, code name ShyRack. He did not hesitate to ask Reverend Jackson to pray for the success of School Daze. See the caption and ocular proof in The Films of Spike Lee: Five for Five (New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1991). 58.. And the film would have been endowed with the blessings of liberation theology and spiritual credibility had he also persuaded Reverend Wright to portray Father Corridan in the film. Wright and Jackson would have given historicized Chicago authenticity to his enterprise, but their involvement also would have prevented Lee from creating Chi-Raq as stereotype-reifying, slapstick pornography. The ministers would have forced him and his actors to burn in flames of tragic rather than comic "truth." Spike Lee is infused with chutzpah.
Lee has been in the cinema game too long to waste his juice or to send Hollywood an ISIS message. He is not a fool. Despite his obvious possession of some political consciousness, he is not a radical or an heir of Malcolm X. Like Aristophanes, he is a trickster of the first water. And like the ancient Greek playwright from whose Lysistrata he borrows theme and surface features, Spike Lee has good entrepreneurial skills. Satirizing the amoral depths of society and pious belief in the sanctity of human life (# All Lives Matter) has commercial value in the world of cinema. Money talks. It sponsors the confusion of shared values in the United States of America. Money reinforces the documented reluctance of many citizens who inhabit ShyRackish territory to enforce communal values, to break silence. To be sure, those citizens are not silent about the debilitating effects of entrenched systemic racism, the mental illness which thugs and police people cultivate, and the production of genocide in the heart of whiteness. They are quite vocal. On the other hand, those who are most vocal about social injustice are most frequently silenced and disappeared by money, mass media, and such films as Chi-Raq.
A comedy or comic film in the United States that smells of morality or serious interrogation of political and social issues is damned from the start. It is destined to turn no profit, because (1) the conventions of comedy demand exaggeration and (2) Americans are gluttons for trivia, the bling of nonsense. Abnormality has to be normalized. The comic valorizes a certain degree of vulgarity. Comic satire, as Bamboozled demonstrated, must embody dread, the quality of conjoined repulsiveness and attraction that can provoke laughter. Should abnormality and dread be the actual norm (the unfortunate case in sectors of American society where ShyRackish communities exist), satire tends to succeed as entertainment. It does not move significant numbers of people to adopt progressive, life-valuing behaviors. Thus, Lee's attempt to transform Greek satiric comedy into American comic satire delivers a gender-laden mess of sexist, death-oriented, racist affirmation.
As a filmmaker, Lee is at the top of his game in terms of understanding his audiences as well as the ideological apparatus of the music, entertainment, and film industries. Some of the awkwardness of films involves the effort to serve competing desires. Artists who possess more than the intelligence of a prenatal fetus generally desire to do the right thing. The industries , on the other hand, desire to maintain power and what Charles W. Mills aptly named the American racial contract. The ethical dilemma can be addressed, but it can't be resolved. It is a Forty Acres and Zora Neale Hurston mule no-brainer to be outraged by the sexism of Chi-Raq, its selling the slogan "No peace. No pussy," it moral treason.
Some viewers of the film might be able to cut through all the audiovisual, hip hop anointed shit and hear Miss Helen (Angela Bassett) utter the name Leymah Gbowee and advise Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) to discover why, at least once in African and world history, sisterhood, prayer, and sex did matter and did make a difference. Out of the chaos of murdering cultural memory in Chicago, of minimizing Iraq's erectile dysfunction, and of selling the booty call crack of America's puritanical Founding Mothers, Spike Lee and company drop on viewers the challenge represented by Leymah Gbowee, Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Tawakkul Karman, the winners of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace. Chi-Raq is not about peace and dead children. It is not about pussy and guns and what D. H. Lawrence wrote or did not write about Lady Chatterley's cunt. It is not about globally abused females and pathetic , demonic males, and innocent dead children and the manifest destiny of ethnic self-hatred to perpetuate genocide. Chi-Raq is about the world's orchestrated failure to learn what needs to be done from Aristophanes's Lysistrata , from the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, or from Gbowee's book Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War (2011). It would surprise no one should it ever be revealed that Pope Francis prayed for Chi-Raq on December 8, 2015 when he opened the doors of St. Peter's Basilica to mark the advent of a Year of Mercy during which the world can celebrate a Supreme Being's love for those who thrive in sin and are need of unconditional mercy.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
December 14, 2015