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Spike Lee, Al Sharpton and New Yorkers Protest Gun Violence at Socially-Charged ‘Chi-Raq’ Premiere

Spike Lee, Al Sharpton and New Yorkers Protest Gun Violence at Socially-Charged 'Chi-Raq' Premiere

READ MORE: Interview: Teyonah Parris Talks ‘Chi-Raq’, Female Driven Stories & the Storm Surrounding the Spike Lee Joint + Watch New Clip From the Film

Spike Lee followed up the premiere of his new political satire “Chi-Raq” not by attending a lavish after party with industry heavyweights and select press, but by joining the people and taking to the streets of New York City for a civil protest from 54th Street to Times Square. The march was keeping in line with the film’s powerful anti-gun violence message, and the fact the movie premiered just hours after Chicago’s police superintendent was fired, as well as on the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat, only added a striking resonance and timeless urgency to the proceedings. 

Co-written with Kevin Willmont, the new Spike Lee joint updates the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” to the violent streets of Chicago for a blood-boiling statement on the consequences of gun violence in America. Teyonah Parris gives a breakout performance as the play’s eponymous character, who reacts to the murder of a child by a stray bullet by organizing a group of women against the ongoing bloodshed in Chicago’s Southside. In order to make the violence ends, Lysistrata mounts a boycott that finds the women of the city agreeing to remain abstinent until their men put down their guns.

While the film weaves comedy and music into a larger dramatic issue, the premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater was as seriously minded as it was socially conscious. The invitation for the event included a line encouraging guests to wear orange, and orange winter hats were passed out at the door for members to wear during the protest. The hats were provided by the nonprofit organization Project Orange Tree, which was started by a group of 15-year-olds after their friend, Chicago native Hadiya Pendleton, was shot and killed while on a playground in her Southside neighborhood. With over 30,000 Americans killed by guns each year, Project Orange Tree encourages people to wear orange, the same color hunters use while in the woods, as a symbol of protection.

Ted Hope, who has been at the head of Amazon Studios’ transition into producing and acquiring motion pictures, opened up the evening by explaining how “Chi-Raq” represents the first film the 10-month-old division has ever made. “Back in January, New York’s uber agent Bart Walker called me and said, ‘What kind of movies are you going to make over there at Amazon?’ and I said we are going to make visionary work by visionary directors, and he said he had somebody he wanted me to meet,” Hope said. “I didn’t tell him that I also dreamed of making movies that could advance cinema and actually better this world. I tried to do that occasionally. One man, though, I think has done a consistency over the last couple decades, and luckily that man was the man he wanted me to meet and who has brought us all together tonight…This is a movie that really has already changed the world and has changed things for the better.”

Sharing similar sentiments for the film’s importance was Reverend Al Sharpton, who joined Spike Lee on stage and riled up the audience with an impassioned speech about what the evening’s events were trying to accomplish. “A lot of people always cause controversy when Spike comes out with something and then you know it’s right,” he said. “Martin Luther King said, ‘You don’t judge the character of a man by when he stands in the hours of convenience but where he stands in the hours of controversy.’ When 9 year-old-boys are being killed, right here 4-year-olds being killed, it’s time to deal with it…We must remember that what this [movie] will bring — yes, it’s entertaining, yes, it’s going to controversial, yes, there’s some comedy — but it will bring a discussion that will save lives that no one in Hollywood does that Spike has been doing.”
“60 years ago today — December 1, 1955 — Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bust; we refuse 60 years later to give up our community to gun violence,” he continued as the audience broke out in applause. “We’re going to march tonight to show that we are not giving up our seats in our communities, we are not giving the seats of our mothers and our children, we, in the spirit of Rosa Parks, are going to march tonight. Tonight, orange is the new black, orange is the new white, orange is the new Latino, so everybody get your orange ready.”
Keeping with the spirit of these words, much of the crowd joined Lee for the post-screening march, which filled out most of Broadway with orange hats and chants to “put the guns down.” Reverend Michael Pfleger, who Lee referred to as the film’s spiritual advisor and consultant, rousingly proclaimed before the premiere, “This film puts a spotlight on the violence in America and the symptoms and the causes of it and it exposes us to start the conversation. But now it is up to us. If he showed the dirt in our face, we need to do something about it or it’s shame on us,” and it’s this mentality that “Chi-Raq” so vividly channels.

“Chi-Raq” opens in select theaters this Friday, December 4. Check out photos from the march below via the film’s Twitter page.

READ MORE: Screen Talk: ‘Beasts of No Nation’ and ‘Chi-Raq’ Challenge Awards Movie Paradigms

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