Chi-Town is All Mixed Up Over the 'Chi-Raq' Trailer
Photo Credit: S & A

Chi-Town is All Mixed Up Over the 'Chi-Raq' Trailer


So everyone has an opinion about the trailer for Spike Lee’s controversial "Chi-Raq" which was released on Tuesday, and that’s a good thing. Let’s face it, when was the last time you were excited about a Spike Lee movie? There used to be a time, long ago, when every time Spike had a film coming out, people were buzzing with anticipation, but that hasn’t been the case for quite a while. But with "Chi-Raq," no matter how you feel about it, it looks like Spike might have gotten his mojo back

Personally, judging from what I’ve seen of the trailer, it seems that my misgivings for the film may have been misplaced. I genuinely liked what I saw, and it looks very promising. I’m now very anxious to see it. However, also judging from the trailer, it seems that the film could have the potential to go spectacularly off the rails. How will it turn out? Your answer is as good as mine. We’ll have to wait until next month to see for ourselves.

But how do the good people of Chicago feel about the trailer? No need to tell you that this it’s one of hottest topics in conversation this week in the city, and, despite some news reports that the reaction from the public has been mainly negative, the reality says something else.

Actually opinions among the Chicago populace are very sharply divided over the trailer. There are some who, according to social media posts and general conversations, are seriously excited about the film, based on the trailer. First, because, as I stated before, it looks like the old Spike is back. Bad boy Spike, the agent provocateur No. 1. The trailer promises a film which is not only visually stylish, but also has a vibrancy and an audacity that hasn’t been seen in a film by Spike in years. And the subject is an important one, which very few dramatic narrative films have addressed.

Then there are some who, like me, are more cautious. In other words, it looks promising, but it could go either way, and so we’ll have to wait until it comes out, hoping for the best.

But then of course, there are those in Chicago who hate it, some quite intensely, with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel being at the top of the list. It’s safe to say that he won’t be at the film’s Chicago premiere. It’s no secret that he is very upset with the film and even called Spike to his City Hall office during pre-production, to basically to chew him out, which Spike laughed off later, calling the mayor a "bully". 

Spike also dismisses the mayor’s fears that the image of Chicago as a violent desolate wasteland will scare away tourists, which, as he has accurately said, in a recent interview with Chicago Magazine (here) is far from the truth. The fact of the matter is that, there has been no impact on tourism at all, especially considering that the areas most affected by violence are isolated communities, mainly inaccessible from downtown Chicago and popular tourists spots.

But there are other Chicagoans have been voicing their opinions, and they are not happy at all. One person tweeted: "Because sexualizing and making a comedy out of Chicago’s gun violence and labelling it ‘Chiraq’ isn’t the way to go. AT ALL."

Another said: "While that dumb ass Chiraq movie is out people will be going to funerals and burying their loved ones!"

And yet another tweeted: "The Chiraq trailer is by far the most offensive trailer I’ve ever seen."

And that’s not even scratching the surface.

The trailer has many people angered and disgusted with the timing – it was released on Tuesday, which could not have come at a worst time for Chicago, especially after two very high profile murders in the Englewood neighborhood on Monday that got not only local, but even international coverage. The first being the murder of a nine year boy found shot to death nine times in an alley in what the police believe was a gang revenge killing, in retaliation against his father who’s in a rival gang. Now the police fear that the families of the possible murder suspects may be targeted in what could be a developing gang war.

And that same day, just a few hours later, literally blocks away from that killing, a young woman who had just won a major modelling contest and was about to sign a modelling contract, was gunned down – an innocent victim of a drive-by while leaving her grandparent’s house on her way back home.

The film trailer’s subject matter, and especially its tone, rubbed some people the wrong way, who feel that it’s an insult to the city and the communities. Rapper Rhymefest, late yesterday, went public about his feelings, stating that he was not pleased with what he saw: "Spike Lee exploited poor people. I’d say that, [he owes] Chicago an apology. And [he owes] Chicago [his] presence to repair the damage… I saw the trailer. It looks just like the script I read, and it verified everything I thought. I was more shocked when I saw the trailer than when I was reading the script. I grieved for the 9-year-old little boy who was shot [Tyshawn Lee], and now a comedy [‘Chi-Raq’] is being made about death in Chicago. THAT’S how we want to depict our community? THAT’S the answer?”

The protesters may have a point to a certain extent. The film tackles a very serious subject matter, but in a sort of quasi-musical with satirical over and undertones. To pull that off successfully, you need a director with a deft and nuanced hand, able to handle the needed complicated shifts in tone. The problem is that Spike has never once been a nuanced director. If anything, he’s been the opposite, as in heavy-handed and maddeningly didactic at times. But that has always been his style and either you love it or you don’t.

However, Spike, like any filmmaker, has the absolute right to make any film, or tell any story he wants to, in any way he wants to. "Chi-Raq" could have the potential to be his best film in years, or another "What-the-hell-was-he-thinking?" type of film, as we’ve seen of late.

But we all seen great trailers that turned out to be lousy films, and lousy trailers that turned out to be great films. Which one will "Chi-Raq" be?

Stay tuned.

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