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Plans Are Afoot to Stop State Film Tax Credit for Spike Lee’s ‘Chiraq’ (A Case of Censorship?)

Plans Are Afoot to Stop State Film Tax Credit for Spike Lee’s 'Chiraq' (A Case of Censorship?)

Despite all the criticism, things are still moving full-steam ahead for Spike Lee’s controversial $18 million film, “Chiraq,” which is to be shot in Chicago for Amazon Studios; and people are still very much split about it in the city itself.

However, there’s one Chicago politician who’s definitely not happy with the film at all, convinced that it gives the wrong message about the city, and he believes that he has come up with a way to get Spike to make changes to the script, especially to the title of the film.

4th ward alderman Will Burns introduced a resolution yesterday at a Chicago City Council meeting, requesting that the Illinois Film Office reject Spike’s application for a $3 million film production tax credit, if he still chooses to call film “Chiraq.”

Burns was quoted as saying that he proposed this plan because “when you brand a whole community as `Chiraq’ and you take that all over the world, it adds just another barrier to bringing economic development to those communities”.

“As someone who represents a South Side ward, it’s very difficult to sort of battle through the perceptions of what South Side neighborhoods are like… It’s especially insulting when it comes from a New Yorker. I mean — go to East New York. Go to Brooklyn and film that. Go to the Bronx. You don’t think they’re shooting people in the Bronx?”

He also added that, “part of the deal with the film tax credit is that the film production company has to prove the film will have a positive economic impact on the state of Illinois. By calling a whole part of the city of Chicago ‘Chiraq,’ they’ll make it harder to bring economic development to those communities, to bring jobs to those communities and, therefore, will have a negative impact on the state of Illinois. For that reason, they should deny it”.

But wait a second here! This has the rancid smell of censorship don’t you think? Granted I’m not crazy about the film either and recently said so (HERE), but, as I stated in that piece, every filmmaker has the right to make any kind of film they want. Whether you want to see it, is up to you.

(And just between you and me – don’t tell anyone else – but I’ve read the script, and it ain’t great. So for those of you who think that this is going to be some kind of masterpiece, take your expectations down… way down. The Hughes brothers did it better with “Menace II Society” and that was 20 years ago.)

Burns has responded to criticisms of censorship and violating the First Amendment’s right to free speech, saying that “There’s nothing anti-First Amendment about it at all. If he wants to name the movie `Chiraq’ and film it in the city of Chicago, he should be able to get the permits for that and he should be able to do it. But we shouldn’t give him money as taxpayers to brand a part of the city as Iraq. That doesn’t make sense.”

Not surprisingly, his plan has not been met with positive responses from everyone, including one of his fellow aldermen, Brendan Kelly, who said that: “There’s a lot of jobs that come with this…it is a major movie production with a world-renowned producer. We need to bring more objectivity to which projects are supported with tax breaks and which aren’t.”

But one thing for those who don’t know Chicago, the 4th Ward, which Burns represents in the City Council, is the Kenwood/Hyde Park area of Chicago where the both the Obamas’ Chicago home and the University of Chicago are located, and is one of the more well-to-do neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago, let alone in the entire city. In addition, there has been a massive increase of new construction there during the past year, with condos, major hotels, new businesses, and more, on the U of Chicago campus.

One could say that, what’s really going on here is that, Burns is upset that his South Side community will be compared to the poorer, isolated and disenfranchised South Side neighborhoods inhabited by “those people,” such as Englewood and Roseland, which have been long-burdened with rampant crime and violence.

No doubt Burns’ proposal won’t get much traction, and Spike will most likely get that tax break. But do you think Burns is taking things too far? Or could it be that Burns already knows that, and his whole plan is let people outside Chicago know, “Chiraq is not my neighborhood, it’s ‘those people’ over there”? 

What say you?

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