Spike Lee’s Use of Chiraq for His Next Film is Infuriating

Spike Lee headshot

My faith in Spike Lee’s abilities as a compelling storyteller has been dwindling for a few years now, and it was all but severed after watching his latest film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. During my video interview with the director, I asked him why he decided to crowdfund the film, to which he replied, “To get the money.” It looks like Lee is going for the money yet again with the title choice for his next film, the offensively-titled Chiraq.

As reported by The Wrap earlier, Lee and Amazon Studios are working together to shoot a film in Chicago with a rumored ensemble cast featuring Kanye West, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Piven, and Common. While there are little to no details beyond these rumors, the film’s moniker alone should be enough to piss off dedicated Chicagoans, myself included.

The term “Chiraq” has been plaguing the city’s residents for a couple of years now as it compares the city’s recent history of gun violence and murder to the war torn country in the Middle East. Some residents (and non-residents, as is wont to happen to those desperately trying to identify with the city) have embraced and glorified the term, while others recognize the nickname’s inherent hate and negativity. And for the most part, the term has dissipated with only a select few still embracing the term in an attempt to further push the image of Chicago being a dangerous city. That’s not to ignore or brush aside the countless acts of violence we unfortunately hear on a daily basis, but the fact remains that the title bestowed upon this amazing city does nothing to further advance how multi-dimensional and outstanding Chicago is, relegating it to nothing more than a city we ought to be in fear of.

I acknowledge that, with no plot information for Chiraq, my reactions to the film may be too premature. However, with Lee’s recent feature films, he’s demonstrated his inability to truly capture the level of quality he showed early in his career. Perhaps his choice of using the term will be used in a way to subvert what it stands for, but I worry Lee won’t be able to do the film or this city justice. At the very least, he’s done his due diligence, as the Chicago Tribune noted Lee was in town earlier this year to research the city’s recent history of violence with St. Sabina’s Reverend Michael Pfleger. And for that, I commend him.

However, the use of the term is misguided, demeaning, and insulting to Chicago. We are more than just “Chiraq,” but by having an icon such as Lee embracing the nickname for his film will do nothing to alleviate the city’s public perception from those across the country. Last year, VICE released a series of video documentaries that seemed to push an agenda of exploiting the Chiraq phenomenon, and it’s with this in mind that I worry even more about Lee’s Chiraq.

Spike, if you’re going to shoot a film dealing with and discussing the city’s violence, I implore you to come up with a better title. Use a title that isn’t so closely associated with murder, with violence, with gang culture, with ignorant rappers, with hate. I love my city, and I would never refer to it with such an ugly term that exploits every single Chicagoan that has been affected by the city’s outbursts of violence. And if you do decide to keep the title, prove me wrong – show me and the world that you still have something left in the tank to bring change to a problem that’s plagued us for years.

Rest in peace, Mikal.

[via The Wrap]

Geoff Henao

Geoff Henao is a writer/kinda photographer affiliated with the Chicago collective LOD. His interests include film, punk rock, cute girls, graphic novels, video games, and the Chicago Bulls. He's funny sometimes.

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