Chi-Raq Review: Spike Lee’s Cutting Satire Blames All

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Let’s get one thing out of the way. Chi-Raq doesn’t have a subtle bone in its body. But this is hardly a time for subtlety. Here, media and art combine for Spike Lee’s ultimate editorial. This is a much louder effort than the acclaimed true story Fruitvale Station, which premiered before the events in Ferguson and Staten Island. Nothing changed, so now’s the time to be loud about it.

As a film, Chi-Raq is frequently a mess, but also hilarious and skewering. Lee has managed to turn the subject into comedy. Partially based on the Greek comedy Lysistrata, the film follows the poor, black community of Chicago. After a little girl gets killed by a stray bullet, twenty-something Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) has the idea of getting women across the community, and later the globe, to refuse sex to their husbands, boyfriends, and male acquaintances until gang violence is put to an end.

The film feels very much like a stage production, with its whip-smart, lyrical script carrying most of the weight in long scenes with great moments of pure theatricality. To top it off, the whole affair is hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, who’s knowing smirk takes the story through its slower parts.

But most amazingly, Lee somehow pulled some humor out of this horrific climate. The whole concept of Chi-Raq is to be celebrated. It’s the director’s most passionate work in a long time. I’ll take messy passion over stuffy perfection any day. Yet now is also the time for action, and Lee hopes that a film as blatant as this one can inspire some real change. As preachy and in-your-face as it is to have “Wake up” slapped onto the screen before the end credits role, there’s no question that he’s right. I hope his film sparks what he wants it to. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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