Spike Lee has always had an interest in using his unique visual style to retell some of history’s most dramatic events; but never has he gone as far back in time as he has with his latest film, Chi-Raq. The film – which features an all-star cast including Nick Cannon, Dave Chappelle, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson – is based on the ancient Greek play Lysistrata. While the movie is based on a 2,400-year old Greek war, Lee does a fantastic job reminding audiences that the situation is still more relevant than ever.
Chi-Raq takes place in south side Chicago (specifically Englewood), where gang warfare is claiming more lives than those lost by the military in Iraq. It focuses on two gangs in particular: one led by rapper Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), the other led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes). However, Chi-raq’s lady, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), is fed up with watching her neighbors die one by one, and fears it will eventually happen to Chi. In an effort to try and the fighting, Lysistrata gathers ladies from both gangs together and hatches a plan: withhold sex from the members of the gang until they agree to stop fighting each other. However, the plan isn’t met with unanimous support. People that make a living off of exploiting women’s sexuality – like Dolomedes (Samuel L. Jackson) and strip club owner Morris (Dave Chappelle) – oppose the movement, as do the gang members that are left hanging out to dry. Even the ladies themselves find the resolution hard to stick to, but Lysistrata knows it’s the only way to stop the violence on the streets of Chicago.
The violence in Chicago has received attention from musicians, media outlets, documentarians, and politicians; but no one has shone a light on the subject quite like Spike Lee. Recreating the story of Lysistara not only reminds us that needless violence has been destroying societies for thousands of years, but that the needs and wants of men and women haven’t changed all that much. History repeats itself over and over, yet human beings never seem to learn from the lessons of those that came before us. However, societies will always have people like Aristophanes and Spike Lee to remind us of these follies in a really entertaining and beautiful way. The visual style of Chi-Raq is ethereal, beautiful, and much more relatable than a play written before Jesus was born, allowing a timeless message to be imparted on a new generation.
Make no mistake, though: Chi-Raq is, at its core, satire. There are some dramatic and emotional scenes, but the film uses humor and parody to highlight what all violence is at its core: Ridiculous. With all of the tragedy surrounding domestic and international terrorism, gang violence, police violence, mass killings, and general abuse that have been invading our streets and airwaves, it’s hard to take a step back and realize how childish it all is. Which is exactly why parody exists in the first place: to show people, through humor, that the issues which plague their every day lives; that some people fight and die for, aren’t always as deadly serious as we make them out to be. Sometimes, the most important thing in life is to be able to sit back and laugh; even if it’s at yourself.