Go

Chi-raq

Year: 2015
Production Co: 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Spike Lee/Kevin Wilmott
Cast: Teyonah Paris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L Jackson, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson, David Patrick Kelly, D B Sweeney, Dave Chapelle

Innocuous Sandra Bullock drama The Blind Side spoke volumes about America's relationship with its African American population. The black kid being 'saved' by the kindly white woman was like a huge and powerful but dumb, non-threatening dog, blindly loyal to anyone who showed it affection and acceptance, any sense of power behind its physical strength cleanly excised. The movie very effectively de-fanged black rage by making a race relations issue palatable to white Republicans.

Spike Lee's movies about black characters are always the flipside of that. They're strong, smart, proud, angry, fed up and revel in their culture and skin colour.

How a white kid born in suburban Australia in the 1970s with no exposure to the real black American experience (aside from on screens) came to love Spike Lee's movies so much I still can't figure out, but he's one of my favourite directors. His movies are demands for racial justice and celebrations of black-is-beautiful sentiments that sit together perfectly. These are the blacks Middle America is terrified of because they have guns, beliefs and voices that are equally loud.

And Chi-raq is the most vibrant, thematically deep and purely fun example of this sort of thing from Lee in a long time. It's a poetry slam fever dream about the disadvantages blacks face in American politics, gun violence, toxic masculinity and not only a feminist diatribe but even more dangerous and sexy, an Afro-American feminist diatribe.

The story itself is kind of slight. In the ganglands of Chicago (suburbs which have the longtime nickname of Chi-raq because of the crime rates), the women decide to band together and tell their men that if they don't stop the violence and killing, they'll restrict their sexual access. It's actually based on an Ancient Greek comedy about women withholding sex from their husbands for taking part in the Pelopponesian war in the fourth century BC. But the delivery, with Teyonah Paris as the ringleader of the action civil, Lysistrata (the name of the Greek play), is a sledgehammer of pathos, laughter and heartbreak.

There's a shooting at a hip-hop performance in the city, and several lieutenants of opposing gang leaders Chi-raq (Nick Cannon) and Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) end up dead. Later than night, someone firebombs Chi-raq's house, sending he and girlfriend Lysistrata fleeing into the street where he unloads with an AK-47 in a rage.

Lysistrata has had enough. First she recruits her own girlfriends, then approaches the hostile and suspicious wives and partners of the opposing gang and soon, movements the world over are declaring 'no peace, no pussy'. The men are bemused, then angry, then desperate as more women join the cause and their ready supply of sex peters out. When it spreads to the Mayor of Chicago's wife and eventually the First Lady, it becomes a national emergency.

Like he often does, Lee makes individual scenes and turns in the plot soapboxes of his anger as much as they push the story forward. In one subplot, a little girl has been indiscriminately gunned down in the street in a gang shootout. At her funeral, the local pastor (John Cusack) leads an impassioned sermon about the inequalities and violence black communities across America face.

But along with the serious, there's the highly comic as things escalate. The women of the No Peace, No Pussy movement infiltrate and take over a military armoury, using their platform to demand they be listened to and that changes take place, all while their 'betters' (boyfriends, the government, etc) try to talk sense into them so things can go back to normal.

And all the while, Samuel L Jackson is Colomedes, a Greek chorus who pops up sitting on the gun barrel of a tank or climbing out of a police car in a fine, colourful Zoot suit to deliver exuberant soliloquies direct to camera about the goings-on on screen.

The brilliant thing about Lee is he's a real filmmaker, not just a guy who points a camera at a story, and Chi-raq is the most overt example in ages of him playing with the forms of cinema, dialogue, character and plot. The dialogue in many scenes are poetry – in the literal as well as the philosophical sense of the word.

It also defies genre, as much a musical comedy as it is a dramatic gang violence thriller. At one point, desperate to end the armoury siege, the authorities try to flush the ladies out by playing sexy R&B music over loudspeakers, figuring they'll be too in the mood for loving by their menfolk to continue their standoff (but which they counter by distributing earplugs among themselves).

It's propped up by an able supporting cast who give it all extra dramatic and comic weight, and Lee has lost none of his fire. It's a thrilling, joyous and soul-crushing call to arms about black beauty, black power and the inequality nightmares tearing the American body politic limb from limb, a statement that doesn't forget to be rollicking entertainment.

© 2011-2018 Filmism.net. Site design and programming by psipublishinganddesign.com | adambraimbridge.com | humaan.com.au