Lights…Camera…Action…Through the lens of the front lines, soldiers of inner city urban communities like Chicago and St. Louis are experiencing what can only be defined as a domestic war. For some families that have experienced loss to gun-violence they feel that they are alone in their struggle and no one is telling their story. A few mothers that we spoke with feel that there is a loss of troops, politicians and leaders combating in their defense or engaging them in a way that will produce hope in this drastic situation. Ground breaking and influential director, Spike Lee has captured the nation’s attention with the release of his latest movie Chi-Raq that explores the violence in Chicago through a satirical Shakespearean approach. The trailer was met with both criticism and support. There are people like the mayor of Chicago who feel Lee should not have portrayed the city of Chicago in “such a negative way.” I personally believe that a light needs to be shined on the current conditions of not only, Chicago, but other urban communities. Acting like the problem doesn’t exist won’t make the issue go away. In a recent and very explosive interview with Windy City Live, Spike Lee argued against critics who disapproved of the title and mere creation of his film but offered no solutions or actions to the reality of the problem. Lee discussed the recent killing of nine-year old, Tyshawn Lee, who was executed in a Southside Chicago neighborhood earlier this month. He argued that “the movie didn’t stop Tyshawn Lee from being executed..” The story of the nine-year old’s horrific death sparked national attention furthering the idea and image of Chicago being a disassociated city of violence. Lee pointed out that he involved the mothers and families of many victims of violence in the film including Jennifer Hudson who appears in Chi-raq. Nevertheless, there are a few people and artists who criticize Spike Lee for being a New Yorker that is presenting a film about Chicago. Chicago artist, Chance the rapper isn’t holding his tongue about his disdain for Lee’s film. He expressed utter disgust of the film that takes a Shakespearean satirical approach to Chicago’s violence problem.
“Let me be the one from Chicago to personally tell you we not supporting this film out here. That shi- gets zero love out here. Shi- is goofy and it’s a bunch of people from no around here telling you to support that shi- Its exploitative and problematic,” argued Chance. He justified his thoughts by saying that “the idea that women abstaining from sex would stop murders is offensive and a slap in the face to any mother that lost a child here.” Chance the Rappers aired out his feelings in a series of tweets.
Before Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq was the talk of the nation, a single entitled Anti-Chiraq had caught the Midwest by storm last year. Chicago’s hometown star, Pohhla released the single to share the stories of the families affected by violence in Chicago. The accompanying video was a chilling reality check of the astronomical number of victims who had died due to gun violence in the city. To be honest we assumed that Pohhla would have been part of the Chiraq film or soundtrack. Pohhla differs with Lee’s critics saying he doesn’t understand the ideology behind the criticism. “If those people were very concerned why didn’t they shoot their own film and documentary? Better yet, why aren’t they offering suggestions and actions to stop the violence.
There were no actors in Pohhla’s video. Instead “Anti-Chiraq was a truthful mini-documentation of families who were dealing with the morning after pain of burying their loved ones. Everything was real. In the song Pohhla denounced the acceptance of the term Chiraq and identified the problems of embracing the name. “We become what we embrace. The violence we see today is not the violence that we used to see. When everyone’s mindset is accepting of the fact that we are living as if we are at war, we become immune to the violence, the victims and the killing,” explains Pohhla. “There are a lot of people that seem to want to live up to the name “Chiraq”. He spoke more about this in an indepth interview with Urban Cusp. Pohhla recalls growing up in the west and Eastside of Chicago and experiencing violence. “It wasn’t like this though. This is a war. Unlike many that live in the Southside of Chicago, Pohhla says he was able to see other places and travel. He even lived in Atlanta for a period of time with his mother. “Most of these guys have never been out of their neighborhood, so they don’t know nothing else…” Pohhla identifies with the struggle in the city and feels that it is hard when you have no support. He understands the direction, Spike Lee is taking with his new movie and believes it’s a start to a more positive direction because it brings light to the epidemic, sparking conversation that may lead to change and legislation. “You can’t hide from the truth or silence creative artist bringing attention to the problem, that’s problematic in itself. If politicians are embarrassed about this portrayal of Chicago maybe just maybe this will force them to invest in education, after-school programs and tangible economic solutions that will keep kids off the streets. Spike isn’t exploiting the situation he’s reporting about it in his way, making you aware.”
Pohhla has a foundation which brings awareness to the violence in the city and specifically works to create activities for kids to be a part of,—giving them something to do and focus on other than the pain they can’t close their eyes to. Chi-Raq hits theaters today. –Diamon Turman with additional reporting by Abesi Manyando