Chiraq the Thorn in Chicago’s Side

Spike Lee's film shrouded in mystery continues to be controversial.
Spike Lee’s film shrouded in mystery continues to be controversial.

Chiraq the Thorn in Chicago’s Side

by Kai EL’ Zabar
The Chicago Sun Times front page read, “Why Chicago Isn’t ‘Chiraq’.  Tribune writer  Phil Rosenthal, wrote,” Movies like Spike Lee’s ‘Chi-raq’  aren’t Chicago’s Real Problem.”
He goes on to make his point, “Memo to anyone still hyperventilating somehow over how the war zone allusion of “Chiraq,” “Chi-raq” or whatever spelling Spike Lee is using for his Englewood movie might not reflect well on Chicago:
When this city is on the silver screen, it’s often the tarnish that draws people in — and it hasn’t driven anyone or anything away yet.
Actual crime scares people.
Movie crime, not so much.”

Interestingly enough, people have spouted off their view of Spike Lee’s intention and have come forth to express why it’s not the title that they  think represents Chicago or the title they don’t want to represent Chicago. While the Mayor and his supporters including Will Burns have expressed their dislike related to the financial impact it can have on the city. Their position is that being branded as Chiraq could turn away interested businesses because of the image that the term Chiraq conjures up. The refusal to give Spike Lee the film tax break  concerns me from a legal perspective yet at Rosenthal points out, “Let’s also not concern ourselves with whether the “Chiraq” tax break debate is moot in that Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has said such financial incentives are off the table while the state limps along without a budget.”

Truth is even if the mayor did not take issue with the working title, it’s unlikely that the break would be given. To Rosenthal’s point, “

One might ask if “Chiraq” could be any less flattering than the city’s recent credit rating reports, given Chicago’s failure to solve its financial problems. But there you have it.” 

If we’re to believe that businesses would turn away and run from Chicago because of the reputation the term Chiraq brands Chicago as why would its financial status be more harmful? After all we have to be honest here. Are the potential businesses like likely to move to Englewood? Perhaps that’s where they are most needed–in those underserved communities that would better be able to offer employment in their communities that in the long run could be a factor to help end the violence.

There are so many real factors not considered. First, crime does exist at an alarming occurrence in Chicago. Much of the crime depicted has been the crime of the impoverished and became high profile because it was Black on Black crime.  Though different in its impact, the high profile political corruption crimes by politicians like Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, Daniel Walker, Otto Kerner, Jr., Len Small, William G. Stratton, all governors most of whom came from Chicago, not to mention the Chicago Machine.

Al Capone created such an impression that years long after his death when traveling through Europe when I’d express that I was from Chicago, it was not unusual for the Italians, the French or  whomever to respond, “Shootem up bang, bang, Al Capone.”  Talk about a reputation.

Rosenthal goes on to address the various movies that have not painted Chicago in the best light centering around crime such as the ‘Untouchables,” that depicts a Chicago run by Al Capone.

That, that right there, is most disturbing and it keeps coming up, the fascist attitude towards artists coming out of Chicago is scary.  Another’s right to i snot negotiable.  We have the right as free men and women to express ourselves as log as we are not obstructing , stopping or causing them harm.
The city’s leadership has taken a potion one too many times where artistic expression has been been blocked by city authorities.  Most recently when the Mayor(Rahm Emanuel) stepped in and ordered that rapper Chief Keef’s scheduled fundraiser be shut down it was not lawful. 
Rosenthal points out, “The door is always open to making movies in Chicago if they show what’s good about Chicago,” Mayor Richard J. Daley said back in 1973. “We all know what’s wrong with Chicago.”
Daley’s long-standing sensitivities were well-known and formidable, as were the obstacles to filmmaking in Chicago he and his minions erected.”

I say it’s all wrong whether we like Chief Keef’s lyrics, lifestyle or not as an artist still he has the right to earn his money. The reason given is that his music incites violence . Father Pfleger was the first to come out and say, “Shut him down.”
Now, what I’m saying is Father Pfleger has bee nothing but supportive of Spike Lee’s film Chiraq. So whats the deal with that?

Has it ever occurred to us that maybe just maybe Spike really is the great storyteller/filmmaker  that we have known him to  be? Let the man make his film. If you don’t want to  see it then don’t. That’s your right.
The recent announcement that Spike Lee’s will be the first of Amazons new online movie channel means that there will be no theatrical release. It will have to be accessed via the internet.

According to Rosenthal “The subject of shunning the movie business had come up as the mayor voiced support for a short-lived proposal to ban or restrict showing films here that might be both too violent and too much a glorification of African-American crime.”
Can you believe that?
“Leaving unmentioned the patronizing condescension and racial overtones, someone asked about whether such an action might be unconstitutional,” according to Rosenthal.
And than goodness that they did because it expresses my sentiments exactly.

The point is that life is a mix of both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. To tell the story about the ugly is not a bad thing.  
Should we band the violent video games, should we stop “CSI,” “Law & Order,” “Criminal Minds”, etc., all from being shown on tv? It’s quite possible that they impact some to be violent.
Lastly, Chiraq has always been the ‘working title’,  and Spike has never said what exactly the movie is about. A synopsis’ has not been issued. We have all assumed that we know. I choose to wait and see and to rely on Spike’s track record.

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