Chance the Rapper claimed to speak on behalf of the whole
city when he Tweeted that ‘we not supporting this film out here’. Chi-Raq,
Chance said, was ‘goofy… exploitative and problematic,’ rounding up with a
heartfelt condemnation of director Spike Lee: ‘You don’t do any work with the
children of Chicago, you don’t live here, you’ve never watched someone die here.’
Fellow rapper King Louie released a song simply called ‘F***
Spike Lee’, and Kanye West, perhaps the most famous Chicagoan in contemporary
music, turned down a part in Chi-Raq
– and Kanye has said yes to cameos in Anchorman
2 and, um, The Love Guru. You
don’t have to be a fan of hiphop to see that Lee’s film doesn’t exactly have
its thumb on the pulse of the culture.
Chi-Raq is an adaptation
of the Ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata,
updated to modern day Chicago for supposedly satirical purposes. In
Aristophanes’ play, the Peloponnesian war is stopped when the women of both
Sparta and Athens agree to withhold sex from their husbands until the fighting
stops; in Chi-Raq (a portmanteau of
Chicago and Iraq, alluding to the city’s high murder rate), the ‘Spartan’ and
‘Trojan’ gangs are subjected to a ‘No Peace, No Pussy’ campaign by their wives
and girlfriends until they down weapons.
It sounds like a cunning and timely high-concept comedy until
you start to think about the implications. Lysistrata
is about battle-of-the-sexes power-play; Chi-Raq, by contrast, is an openly political film about a contemporary
political moment, released at a time when race-relations and gun control are
issues central to a bitter and high-stakes US election.
In that context, Chi-Raq
feels clumsy and irrelevant. There’s no space here to list everything
that’s iffy about it, so we’ll limit ourselves to saying that you don’t
have to be Chance the Rapper to feel that ‘the idea that women abstaining from
sex would stop murders is offensive and a slap in the face to any mother that
lost a child’ when applied to real murders that happen every day.
But even divorced from reality, Chi-Raq doesn’t succeed. It’s too long,
the songs are unmemorable, the dialogue is all in rhyming couplets of patchy
scansion, and – most damagingly – it’s not nearly funny enough.
|What||Chi-Raq film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
02 Dec 16 – 02 Feb 17, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|