With a title like Chiraq, the controversy surrounding the preview for Spike Lee’s latest film was inevitable. The title is a portmanteau of Chicago and Iraq, drawn from the estimation that the homicide rate in Chicago has surpassed the death toll of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. In Lee’s trailer, a smiling Samuel L. Jackson in a loud orange suit greets the audience warmly, disturbing the serious tone expected of the film. Luckily, Chiraq is satire, based on the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata. In Lysistrata, Greek women pledge celibacy until their partners negotiate a peace deal to end the Peloponnesian War. In Chiraq, the women of Chicago aim to bring an end to the city’s gun violence by doing the same. The colorful trailer sets gunshots and funerals against barbershop laughter and men gawking in strip clubs. Lee is asking substantial favors of his audiences: to trust that the comedic elements of Chiraq will not eclipse the severity of the actual gun violence that plagues the city and that he as a director can rise to such a sensitive task. But satire or not, is the city of Chicago prepared for such a film? It was only weeks ago that 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was shot dead in an alley in the city, a tragic result of gang violence. No matter Lee’s intention, perhaps it is far too soon for the subject to be broached with anything other than a solemn tone.
Chiraq opens in select theaters on December 4th.