Is it just a catchy title? A healthy dosage of realism for a troubled city? Or exploitation of Chicago's rampant violence?
The questions are being asked of filmmaker Spike Lee, who is currently filming an upcoming movie tentatively titled Chiraq in the city of Chicago. "Chiraq," of course, is one of the city's nicknames, which was coined by rappers because of South and West side Chicago's stubbornly high murder rates as a comparison to Iraq. You know, a war zone.
Criticism of the film's working title has been constant. Last month, a Chicago alderman encouraged the state of Illinois to take away the film's $3 million in tax breaks if it keeps the title. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has asked Lee to change it. Lee even held a press conference in the epicenter of violence before filming began, hoping to calm community concerns.
“A lot of people have opinions about the so-called title of the film who again, know nothing about the film,” he said at the conference. “Way, way back when I made Do the Right Thing, there were people who said this film would cause riots all across America, that black people were going to run amok. They wrote a whole bunch of things."
“But those people ended up being on the wrong side of history,” he said.
Regardless, it's clear that the title and the subject matter is rubbing some people the wrong way. This morning, when filming began, local blogs warned of "simulated gun fire" that could carry on through the night. Locals took to Twitter to express displeasure with the scene:
Today's shoot is in the hipstery neighborhood of Wicker Park. But, most of the film will be shot (no, pun not intended) in the city's South Side. That's the neighborhood where almost 4 out of 10 visitors to a local hospital show signs of PTSD, largely due to rampant gun violence in their community, according to a 2012 medical study.
The film is rumored to be a "comedic reimagining of 'Lysistrata,' the ancient Greek tale by Aristophanes in which women withhold sex to force the men to end the Peloponnesian War," reported the New York Times.
Lee's camp has neither confirmed nor denied those rumors. But a local tweeted this today, so maybe there's a grain of truth to it:
In Aristophanes' original tale, a blend of violence and comedy is used to to address the toll that violence exacts on the men that perpetuate it, and on their families at home.
According to the film's IMDB page, it will star Samuel L. Jackson alongside Chicago natives Common, Jennifer Hudson, and John Cusack.
During last month's press conference with Lee, Cusack addressed the issues some people have taken with the film's working title.
“I love my city of Chicago,” he said. “And I would never do anything to hurt it.”
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.