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XXY Reviews: Chi-Raq by Spike Lee

XXY Reviews: Chi-Raq by Spike Lee

Spike Lee’s latest film Chi-Raq is angry, raw and righteous. Based on Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, it tells the story of a group of women in Chicago who embark on a sex strike to halt gun violence in their community. Lee’s modern twist on this classic is stylish and boisterous; the intensity of his message permeating like a beat you can’t shake. But it is necessary. Lee’s style might not be to everyone’s taste, but you can’t deny the film’s potency. It is frank and vulnerable all at once; conveying an important lesson about the world we live in.

Chi-Raq’s prologue radiates with Lee’s spirit to devastating effect. Nick Cannon plays the title character, voicing the lyrics to the song ‘Pray 4 My City’. Words like “This is an emergency” are stamped across the screen before you can settle into your seats. And that’s exactly what Lee seems to angle for. You never sit comfortably in this film. One moment Samuel L. Jackson is addressing the audience as a colourfully-dressed Dolmedes. He smiles and jests. The next, Jennifer Hudson’s character is bent double in the street; her daughter Patti has been shot dead.

This shift in energy sets Chi-Raq apart. We jump from a world where the characters speak in iambic pentameter, into one in which rappers shoot each other and women retort with, “No Peace, No Pussy”. It is incredibly theatrical, defying genres and tearing down boundaries. But Lee is careful not to compromise the film’s integrity. There is a method behind this haphazard madness. We are jolted into listening.

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Teyonah Parris plays Lysistrata, the leader of this anti-violence female group. Her boyfriend is Chi-Raq; head of a gang that perpetrates these gun crimes. Parris’s portrayal of her character is as fierce as it is sensitive, but it is Angela Bassett as the fervent neighbour, who steals the show. She inspires Lysistrata to take action against the gangs and her frustration is palpable throughout the film. She makes a welcome contrast to some characters who are more farcical.

Wesley Snipes plays Cyclops, leader of Chi-Raq’s rival gang, the Trojans. He frequently chuckles to himself and makes exploitive remarks about the women and their celibacy rule. In one scene he watches a male friend mount the pole in a strip club. They are playfully trying to fill a void left by some female company. It doesn’t feel playful, though. It feels vulgar and cheap, and scenes like these make for difficult viewing.

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But sit patiently; Lee has a balancing act in place. Lysistrata and her movement get their stage. They tie up generals, they stage a lock-in, they shout from rooftops. These comments fuel their fire. “No Peace, No Piece”, remember? And they firmly stick to it. It might seem contrived at points, but this is a modern spin on a classic, after all.

Lee uses style, sex and colour in one big bundle. At times it jars, at times it is thoroughly entertaining. Other times it simply is too preachy. Help to end gun violence; that is its message. But this is increasingly topical in today’s society. If we can’t be preachy now, when can we?

 

Written by Georgina Grier,

Contributor

@screensterblog

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