CHI-RAQ VIEWING GUIDE:
Spike Lee debuted Chi-Raq in 2015, to mixed reviews. Lee’s film adapted Lysistrata and blended elements of tragic and comedic plays to address the problem of gun violence in Chicagoland, itself a symptom of other underlying issues including racial inequality, economic under-development, government policies, the “war on drugs,” mass incarceration, the military-industrial complex in the United States, and more. Euripides’ Lysistrata mixed everyday Greek speech and comedic banter with choruses who subverted the elevated Greek of the tragic plays while commenting on events. Lysistrata’s central protagonists are ordinary and far from perfect, so too with the central characters of Chi-Raq: Cyclops, Indigo, Lysistrata, Miss Helen Worthy, the mourning Irene, mother of Patti, and the rapper Demetrius Dupree (alias Chi-Raq).
In Chi-Raq, the city is divided into two rival gangs, the Trojans (orange, Troy-town), led by Cyclops, and the Spartans (purple, Sparta-South), led by Chi-Raq. Chiraq’s narrator, Dolomedes (played by Samuel Jackson), is dressed in formal suits and provides commentary on the action, thus combining the function of the tragic chorus (whose comments tended to reaffirm social customs) with that of the comedic chorus (which suggested innovative solutions). The tone of Chi-Raq partakes of both tragedy and comedy, alternating between the tragic death of Patti from stray gunfire to comedic send ups of male and female gender roles and relationships. The film could be viewed as a “comedy,” in that it ends with a truce and promise of assistance and personal redemption, but also as a tragedy, in that one of the central characters must go to prison to “atone” for Patti’s death. The powerful language of rap is employed throughout the film as a modern counterpoint to Greek verse, and instead of the gods and Greek oratory, we have urban Christianity and powerful sermons by Rev. Mike Corridan.
Questions to bear in mind while viewing the film are listed below.
Please post your answer to one of these questions to the Chiraq Discussion Forum linked on the school LMS. Try for between 100-200 words, think of using visual and verbal evidence and rich explanation of it to support your answer, and make sure you are answering your chosen question in a different way than your classmates by reading through the answers first. Be prepared to discuss the questions you answered in class and to defend your answer with evidence.
Pay close attention to the opening credits and lyrics. How does Spike Lee set the scene? What image of Chicago is he painting and why?
Throughout the film, how do the music and lyrics enrich the meaning or comment on the plot/action?
What event sparks Lysistrata’s protest? Why does it spark protest?
What other factors does Spike Lee highlight as helping to create the circumstances for gun violence to flourish?
Why was the world rocked by the gun violence at Sandy Hook and other schools and not by the annual death rate by gun violence in Chicago, according to Spike Lee?
Which protesters inspired Lysistrata’s own actions?
At about one-half hour into the film, Spike Lee rewrites the famous oath scene from Lysistrata. Do the changes work for you within the context of the film? Why/why not?
About two minutes later, we have Dolomedes at the barber shop. What sentiments and opinions are expressed there?
At Patti’s funeral, the Reverend gives a powerful speech. According to him, what factors led to Patti’s death? To what historical events and figures does he refer and why?
What other elements of life in Chiraq does Lee address before we meet General King Kong? What problems exist and does he offer any solutions?
What is Spike Lee trying to say in the scene where Lysistrata confronts General King Kong? This is a complex and disturbing scene filled with visual symbolism and verbal allusions and outright slurs.
Given the complex and often disturbing nature of police and community relations in the Chicagoland area, what do we make of Spike Lee’s treatment of the reaction of the National Guard, SWAT teams and local police (and the fictional white mayor of Chicago) to Lysistrata’s and her female army’s occupation of the armory?
What is the effect of the strike on the Knights of Euphrates? Note the character of Oedipus.
How does political protest intersect with gender relationships in Chi-Raq? Is this comparable to what occurs in Lysistrata or is it very different?
How does political protest intersect with power relationships in Chi-Raq? Is this comparable to what occurs in Lysistrata or is it very different?
How does political protest intersect with race relationships in Chi-Raq? Is this comparable to what occurs in Lysistrata or is it very different?
What factors and problems emerge in the bargaining process for peace?
At about 1 hr and 50 minutes, there is a key negotiation scene. What do the inhabitants of Chiraq see as the solution to their problems? What do they need as a community according to Spike Lee (he is not from Chicago, but grew up in Brooklyn, New York)?
Do the mothers dressed in white with photographs of their dead children evoke Euripides' The Trojan Women or a tragic Greek chorus (or perhaps the Furies)? Is their silence powerful or have they been robbed of speech? How does their protest compare to and intersect with that of Lysistrata and her female supporters?
Do we find the ending of this film satisfying or disturbing? Why/how?