*Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq,” is the first original film to be distributed by Amazon Studios. Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate partnered with the company for a limited release in theaters on December 4, with the film premiering on Amazon Instant Video shortly after.
The drama is a modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago. Teyonah Parris stars as the girlfriend of a gang leader (Nick Canon), who becomes fed up with the senseless violence and death of innocent children. Inspired by Leymah Gbowee – the fearless woman whose efforts helped end the second civil war in Liberia – Parris unifies the neighborhood women and convinces them to abstain from sex in order to persuade their thug life lovers to end gang violence in the city.
The Electronic Urban Report/EUR was present at the L. A. press conference where Lee explained that his decision to incorporate satire into the piece came down to simply “artistic choice.”
“ChiRaq is not the first in the history of American cinema that has dealt with serious subject matter with satire – with humor,” Spike said. “Kevin Willmott and I felt like that was the best approach.”
“Wake Up” is a theme used in all of Spike’s films, and he explained what the phrase means in how it relates to this film.
“I’m active on social media and a lot of people said that we didn’t have any real Chicago gangs in the film. We didn’t have any savages. They using that word savage like that’s something one should attain to be,” Lee explained. “And I’m not blaming them – can’t choose your parents, or the condition that you’re brought up in, so there’s a lot of discussion and healing that has to happen and you can’t begin the process until people wake up.”
Kanye West was originally supposed to star in the film but dropped out, possibly due to scheduling conflicts, though he did contribute to the film’s soundtrack. Nick Cannon gives a moving performance as rapper/ gang leader Chi-Raq – seriously, who knew Cannon could deliver the type of dramatic performance that will move you to tears!
Nick said his inspiration came “from the south side of Chicago,” and explained how the community reception helped enhance his character.
“I got to understand the community in a real way, from the family members and the loved ones who have been lost, and the people responsible for it. Ultimately, it comes from a place of pain. These people are hurt. Our community is hurt. I’ve heard the saying that “hurt people, hurt people.” So if we really dig deep and understand that it’s just a cry out for help, and understand humanity. I was trying to find that humanized aspect and I think that’s the journey my character when on during the film,” Nick said.
Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson also star, and Chicago native Cusack said “epidemic is too soft a word” to describe the level of gun violence in the city, and around the world.
“Catastrophic is too soft a word for what’s been happening with gun violence in America, not just in Chicago,” John said. “So, when I got the call from Spike to do it, I thought, about time.”
“Our entire film was shot on the south side and Father Pfleger brought in people from the community to speak with us, so we could get to know personal stories. We spoke to some mothers who are also in the film, who have lost children and family members,” Teyonah shared.
Cusack and Cannon revealed that they signed on for “Chi-Raq” because Spike told them that his goal was simply to “save lives.”
“Spike’s initial mission was, we want to save lives,” explained Nick. “So I hope people understand from this film that-that’s what we were trying to do, and respect life – in every form that it is.”
“It was hard to look around and not feel like you were in it,” John reflected, with Nick adding: “We were making a film, but they live this life everyday.”
Snipes praised Parris for delivering a strong performance, which Cannon is certain will resonate with future generations.
“This young lady already has leadership qualities,” Wesley remarked about Teyonah. “It’s already in her DNA. She presents herself that way. She carries herself day-to-day that way. I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of her expressing her power,” he joked.
“To think where Aristophanes set out over 2000 years ago with Lysistrata, but now, today’s generation, when they think Lysistrata, they’ll think of Teyonah and that’s a beautiful thing,” said Nick.
“How often do we a powerful, intelligent black woman in a film, not saying it hasn’t been done before but, it’s always refreshing when it happens,” Lee added.