In an epic stroke of artistic genius, Spike Lee utilized the structure of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and the inspiration of a Liberian peace activist’s successful use of collective sexual abstinence to stop a war as a foundation for a satirical speculative fiction on how such a movement could stop violence in inner city Chicago. Chicago has been labeled by many as “Chi-raq”, due to the homicides exceeding those of U.S. troops in Iraq. Lee includes these factoids and many others in the film in such a consistent way that the satire could never be confused for simple humor.
Lee took the time to actually write the film in the cadence of Aristophanes’ play, complete with rhyming poetry throughout and intermittent choruses. Moreover, he layered the film with a plethora of references to traditional African linguistics, African spirituality, ideas of renowned psychologist – Dr. Frances Cress Welsing (see “Penis Envy” painted on the phallic gun of a military tank), and oft discussed concepts of Dr. Amos Wilson such as agency and self-determination.
For those who have critiqued the movie as being exploitative or simply misogynistic, they may not have actually seen the film or may not have understood the many nuances of this artistic masterpiece. This is no Django – there is no moment where sex or violence is implemented for the sake of sex or violence. Each shooting in the movie is followed by a thorough explanation of how violence in Chicago affects young Black men, their mothers, and innocent neighborhood children. Lee also extends the educational piece far enough to address the root of continued violence – including the role of economic depression, politics, and the NRA.
The premise of the movie is not that sex alone can stop a war, but that abstinence can spark the conversation which can lead optimally to the many factors coming together which can stop a war. What’s noteworthy is that in the very real second Liberian War, Leymah Gbowee used a collective sex strike to gain media attention that allowed her to present the women’s case against violence to senate. At this hearing, Gbowee stated, “We are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, “Mama, what was your role during the crisis?””
The Liberian war ended weeks later, thanks in large part to the conversation that the sex strike and hearing initiated. Gbowee wrote proudly in Mighty Be Our Powers, “What we [women] did marked the beginning of the end.” Lee’s movie is doing the same – starting a conversation. African American influencers on both sides the spectrum such as NOI leader, Louis Farrakhan, and Hip-Hop artist, Chance the Rapper, have heavily critiqued the film while others have praised it. However, no one can deny that Chi-raq is raising awareness of not only violence in Chicago, but the causes and effects of homicidal violence in impoverished areas worldwide and more importantly, what we can maybe do about it. Let’s not get on the attack Spike bandwagon. See the film. Enjoy it for its all star cast, its magnificent art, its intelligent and compassionate message, its phenomenal soundtrack, and its ultimate idealistic goal of contributing to ending violence globally.
(c) 2015 Nikala Asante