By now, you have probably seen the trailer for Chiraq, as it was trending for the hottest of minutes yesterday night.
That said, just in case you haven't, I got your back:
Trailer aside, after viewing it a couple of times, I've gotta say: I don't think I'm entirely okay with this. And you probably shouldn't be either.
I know. I know. How I could I make such a bold claim? Well, I got a variety of reasons, but let's start with this one:
What business does Spike Lee have making this movie?
Putting this quite frankly, Spike Lee was born in Atlanta, raised in Brooklyn, and currently resides in NYC. I don't at all recall Spike Lee ever staying in Chicago for an extended period of time; so I'm just very curious as to what lead him to make a film about an issue (re: gun violence) that is very important to the city of Chicago.
That is not to say that not being from a certain place or location automatically bars you from being able to make a movie about said place or location. I mean, technically, you can do whatever you want. The real question is, should you?
I say this to highlight the fact that there is a history of cultural tourism (that is, mining cultures to make riveting and/or award-winning films about them) when it comes to making/directing films like this. And usually, the director is not a part of this culture. Directors usually do it under the guise of trying to bring awareness to the culture or some other hot button issue. While this sounds innocent enough, there's always the question of whether it is sincere or not and whether there is a potential for it to be exploitative in nature.
This potential explotativeness usually comes into play when the director is coming from a place of privilege and exploring a topic/unique problem that is specific to a marginalized group (re: Beasts of No Nation, Portraits of Jason, and many others). While the film might act as a sort spotlight for the issue, the fact that said marginalized group usually doesn't get a say in how their stories are told (that is, they don't get to helm them like these directors or exercise agency over their own narratives--other than participating in relating their stories of course) is kind of perturbing.
And it makes me wonder who Spike Lee touched based with in Chicago before making the film or if even touched base with the city's inhabitants at all.
Which brings me to my next point:
Will he handle it with the care it needs?
Over the last couple of months, Spike Lee has made multiple comments on the movie's subject matter (including that controversial title) and how it would be rendered. In some of these comments, it was discovered that Chiraq was going to be yet another adaptation of Lysistrata. For those who don't know, Lysistrata is a Greek comedy and I'm not entirely sure if that's the approach you want to take with a subject as pressing as gun violence.
Still, even if I were to not side-eye that specific narrative decision, I'm still skeptical of whether or not Spike Lee would be able to handle this tale with the nuance that it requires, even if comedy is involved. What do I mean by this? Well, it's simple:
I'd argue that Spike Lee hasn't directed a good movie since Inside Man.
I know, I know. That's blasphemy, right? Well, not exactly. His two most recent efforts—Oldboy (the remake) and Da Sweet Blood of Jesus—didn't exactly wow anyone. I'd be willing to give him somewhat of a pass for Oldboy, seeing as a fair amount of studio interference went into that hot mess of a movie. As for Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, however, that film was just weird. And not in a good way.
This is concerning. I mean, everyone has box office duds now and then, but when it's been a minute since you've directed a critical darling, I think the concern is warranted. What's more is that it would be absolutely not a good idea to botch this film, with so much socio-political capital riding on it.
Of course, Spike Lee also has a fair amount riding on it too, especially if he's trying to get out of this film rut that he's currently in.
Which begs my last question:
Is this just a cheap Oscar grab?
Addressing this question and drawing from my first question, I did in fact peep that the film has a December date (December 4). Interestingly enough, this would mean that the film would be just in time for Oscar season.
I think not.
I might be assuming the worst, but consider this: it is no secret that the coveted Best Director Oscar continues to elude him. While that is no fault of his own (I am still of the belief that he was severely snubbed when it came to movies like Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X), I can't help but think that this is his way to take another shot at it. This makes me want to mentally and preemptively place the movie in Oscar Bait™ territory.
You know what I'm talking about. We all know how cumbersome Oscar Bait™ can be. Like, I have no qualms with directors wanting to tackle fairly serious subjects in fairly serious movies. But Oscar Bait™ movies attempt this to such a degree that it turns whatever subject it was seeking to address into overly-melodramatic fanfare that reduces the subject and turns it into morbid fanfare (a good example of this is Poverty Porn™. I HATE Poverty Porn™).
It's kind of disturbing, to be honest. And yet these movies continue.
Still, it is very likely that Chiraq is not going to fall into typical Oscar Bait™ territory (considering who's directing it), but that doesn't mean Spike Lee isn't going to try.
In the end, however, I am hoping Spike Lee knew what he was getting into when he decided to make Chiraq. I am hoping Chiraq is a good movie. I hoping that he handles its delicate subject matter well. Otherwise, Spike Lee may have a bit more to worry about than a bad film rut.