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Director Spike Lee is no stranger to controversy. Quite the contrary; it’s become a nearly inseparable part of who the man is. Sometimes it finds him, other times he is the catalyst behind it. His latest feature film is no exception. From its title to its subject matter, Lee will be drawing attention to the problem of violence in Chicago’s south side, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is none to happy about it.
The film, titled Chi-Raq a portmanteau of Chicago and Iraq, takes the classical play by Aristophanes, Lysistrata and transports it to modern day Chicago in an area where violence is out of control. In the original play Lysistrata organizes women to withhold sex from their military husbands in an attempt to bring an end to the Peloponnesian War. In Lee’s film the focus will be Chicago area gang violence. Needless to say a film that compares a modern American city to both centuries old warfare as well as the modern day upheaval of the Middle East, does not sit well with that city's mayor. It appears that Emmanuel is afraid that those that see Chi-Raq will have none too favorable views of Chicago, which will then have a negative impact on the city. Emanuel even had a meeting with Lee to voice these concerns. Lee told Variety about the exchange and his very blunt response..
I had a meeting at City Hall with the mayor...Rahm told me he did not like the title of the film. He said the title ‘Chi-Raq,’ would hurt tourism and economic development...There’s no tourism in the South Side of Chicago...There’s no tour bus going through Englewood or the Wild Wild 100s or Terror Town. Unless they start making the tour busses bulletproof. So what tourism are you talking about?
Lee draws a strong distinction between the South Side of Chicago and the rest of the city. He talks about the major events like the Lollapalooza music festival, which took place during filming, bringing major tourism into downtown. At the same time Lee says that 65 people were murdered on the South Side while the production was filming in the area. That is a stark contrast to say the least.
Controversy has followed Lee since the very beginning of his career. He even draws a parallel between this experience and the release of Do the Right Thing early reviews of that film were afraid that the movie would lead to violence and rioting, which never happened. Lee says the people making those claims ended up on the wrong side of history, and he believes the same thing will happen to Rahm Emanuel here.