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People in Chicago Are Not Happy with Spike Lee’s ‘Chiraq’

People in Chicago Are Not Happy with Spike Lee’s 'Chiraq'

As Tambay
reported last week (HERE), Spike Lee is getting ready to make his next film
project for Amazon Studios, titled “Chiraq,” which is planned to star Samuel L. Jackson, Common, Kanye West, and
Jeremy Piven, and which will deal with the violence that has been plaguing the city.

No details,
as yet, on what story the film will tell, although it has been described as a “comedy” in some media
reports. How a film on this subject could be the basis of a comedy, is beyond me.

Needless to
say, it has caused something of a firestorm in Chicago, with many people publicity
speaking out in the media against the film – especially against the title, which they say further perpetrates the image of Chicago as Dodge City in
1885; Shootouts and drive-bys with people being killed left and right every day,
everywhere.

One person – Aaron Pierce, a Chicago activist – said in a Chicago Tribune article today: “That name does not really give us a positive look. That name belittles
our city and I feel that it dehumanizes us….We are from Chicago. It is not Iraq.”

And people
like Pierce have a legitimate point. First, the term “Chiraq” is horribly outdated
in Chicago. No one says that anymore, and even if they did, it was for a very brief
time. It was more popular in other cities, seriously plagued with their own
problems with violence, but who like to point to Chicago as a form of deflection.

Also, for
those who don’t live in Chicago, and who think that the whole city has gone mad, we’re talking about a few neighborhoods and
communities that are bearing the brunt of the violence; Neighborhoods
such as Englewood, Roseland and Austin, that are not only poor communities with
high unemployment, but practically out of the way, isolated from the rest of
the city. You can literally live in Chicago all your life and never have to travel
to any of those communities. Poor urban planning and a lack of urban development
strategies have resulted in these once vibrant places becoming the wastelands that
they currently are.

The other
thing to keep in mind is that, the actually murder rate in Chicago for the past
few years is literally less than half of what it was 20 years ago during the go-go
Clinton years  If you don’t believe me, just
read about it HERE.

Compare that New York City, which, back during the early 90’s, had a homicide rate nearing
2000 murders a year; and from 2003 to about 2010, the murder rate in both New
York and Chicago were almost the same. It’s only in the last three years that Chicago has beaten New York in the number of homicides, but by only 100 or so.

So how come
the media keeps reporting about “Chiraq” as if it’s hell on earth? When was the
last time you heard any media coverage about the murder rate in New York, or any
other large major city, such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles or Miami?

Part of the
reason is that, for decades, the local Chicago media actually had a policy of
never reporting about murders in Chicago, unless it was some high profile (i.e. white person) case, like a college
student who was killed during a robbery, and or someone in “high society,” like real
estate mogul Lee Miglin, who was found beaten to death by hustler Andrew Cunanan
back in 1997.

Second of
all, the news reporting landscape has changed in the last ten years, with 24 hour
news channels and the internet. The need
for constant content is mandatory, so, as a result, it’s become, “Hey what’s with these people
getting killed in Chicago? Let’s report about that and give it a catchy name too.
That’s something to write about and beat to death.”

And third, as I alluded
to earlier, it’s a great way for the East and West Coasts media, and power
structures, to point their fingers at Chicago in order to take attention away from serious problems in
their own cities.

And there’s
another reason as well. Branding the city as a violent hellhole plays right
into the strategies of the powers that be, who have their own agenda.

As a former
Chicago gang member and current community organizer, Clifton McFlower said in an
article about him a year ago: “Chiraq is another way to promote violence so that
more money can be allocated for law enforcement, instead of social needs. When
you talk about violence, it calls for more police or jails. But that doesn’t
solve the problems.”

So Spike Lee coming to Chicago to make this project sounds somewhat tone deaf. However, not having read the script, I will
admit that it could be a fantastic story, and an exciting project dealing with
issues about urban violence in a truly unique and interesting way.

I’m not
saying that Spike shouldn’t make the film. That’s the last thing I’m saying; and filmmakers should be able to make any kind of film they want to make. But this smells too
much like a filmmaker trying desperately to still stay relevant, yet only to realize that he might be way out of touch.

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