Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chi-Raq opens Dec. 4

Director, Spike Lee’s latest film, “Chi-Raq” (2015), is an adaptation of the Greek playwright Aristophanes’s play “Lysistrata.” Set in Chicago or Chi-town, its street warfare juxtaposed to that in Iraq, the film’s battle involves Spartan warlord Demetrius “Chi-Raq” Dupree (Nick Cannon) and rival Trojans, led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes). When a girl-child is killed by a stray bullet, Chi-Raq’s girlfriend, Lysistrata, already fed up with the ceaseless conflict between black men, decides to use creative tactics to end the battle.  For Lee’s “Lysistrata,” portrayed by the beautiful Juilliard-trained actress Teyonah Parris, the party is over.

In a recent phone interview, Parris says she was inspired in her portrayal by women like Leymah Gbowee, Assata Shakur and Nina Simone. Chicago’s South Side has been under siege with more casualties than the War in Iraq.  These brave women see that if Chicago is allowed to go under, it will not be the last American city to topple. Its perpetrators are infected with what Dr. Joseph Marshall (Alive and Free), calls a disease or sickness plaguing black communities everywhere. What has happened to a people who do not see its humanity reflected in each others faces?

Both Teyonah Parris and Nick Cannon, Parris as Lysistrata and Cannon as Chi-Raq, a rap artist who wages war, show through their contentious relationship how individuals can change. Both on a precipice swinging oppositional to peace, the two actors evolve as life affirming values merge and dissolve.

Perhaps what Priestess Lysistrata, (whose name means “desolving armies,”) does well is remove the irreligious aspect of sex from praxis. All of a sudden when the boys can no longer get a “piece” without “peace,” perhaps what emerges is Oshun, the Yoruba warrior goddess of love, who demands respect. Sex is no longer trivialized when life becomes, once again, sacred.

So as Lysistrata moves from enjoying the bling to examining the systems that make her lifestyle possible, she steps not out, but literally into the line of fire as a leader of the women. Change, atonement and hope emerge, something audiences can take away from “Chi-Raq,” the film, experience.

After two powerful interviews with lead actors, Cannon and Parris, I am still just extrapolating, as I have not seen the film, only read a review, and watched multiple interviews with the director, Spike Lee.  Yet I have seen staged performances of the work here with the African American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco. Its production directed by the stunning and brilliant director, Rhodessa Jones, director also of the Medea Project, Theatre for Incarcerated Women. Another production was at Contra Costa College in its theatre department. It was set in the present and used multimedia, and original music.

In “Chi-Raq,” Lysistrata takes her sex strike inspiration from Leyman Gbowee, the Nobel Laurette and Peace Activist, who with other Liberian women, ended the second civil war. America is a country founded on violence, its media a shameless marketplace for sex and violence, especially against women. Lee and co-writer, Kevin Willmott’s film, “Chi-Raq,” flips this so that audiences see a woman protagonist not just save her peoples, but also return to the men, who are also vital to the solution, their humanity. It's brilliant!

On the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March, its leader, Min. Louis Farrakhan also a Chicagoan, not to mention our First Family, President Barack Hussain and Michelle Obama, the strategic release of “Chi-Raq” at this moment in this country’s history, pre-Paris attack, says much for director, Spike Lee’s ability to allow the muse, mixed with political and social urgency to dictate his steps whether this is “4 Little Girls,” “Get on the Bus,” “Malcolm X” or “When the Levees Broke.”  “Chi-Raq” lifts the conversation to a national level in a way only recent Oscar awardee, Lee, can. The film has an all-star cast including: Jennifer Hudson, D.B. Sweeney, Harry Lennix, Steve Harris, Angela Bassett, John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson.

This film, which is not for children (Rated X for strong sexual content including dialogue, nudity, language, some violence and drug use), shows how the women take the bull by its horns and bring it to its knees. Adults (and mature teens, 15+) need to see this film. With the war on black people raging unabated across the nation, the urgency cannot be stressed enough.  “Chi-Raq” presents an option.  This film can start a much needed conversation.  The film opens Dec. 4 at the Metreon in San Francisco; the Elmwood in Berkeley; Camera 12; AMC Cupertino 16 and Eastridge Mall 15. 


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