'Chi-Raq': Lysistrata Retold

Is the violence in Chicago a laughing matter? Certainly not. However, if Chicagoans held their politicians, community and church leaders as responsible as they hold Spike Lee, I dare say things may change.
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I am a Chicago native and I love my hometown. I have lived in Los Angeles and now reside in New York. However, for me, there is no place like home. From Vienna beef hot dogs, Maxwell Street polish, stuffed pizza, blues fest, jazz fest, Bud Billiken parade and more, I am proud of my south side Chicago roots.

In Los Angeles, I was warned about displaying my Bulls pride because of the red color. In New York, it is commonplace to hear New Yorkers bemoan how Jordan messed it up for the Knicks and how they have "real" pizza. I still stand true to my Midwestern roots. Chicago had the reputation of being one of the friendliest cities and the city of big shoulders. There is a southern undertone to Chicago, especially among the black community. When I grew up, neighbors would discipline you. People sat on porches in summer and kids played in the front until the lights came on. And I grew up on the far south side, not the best neighborhood.

Yet, there was still childhood innocence, catching lightening bugs and playing red light green light. There was an occasional scuffle but if an adult intervened, it was squashed. Unfortunately, as my friends remind me, the Chicago we grew up loving is fading. Even the crack epidemic of the 1980s did not cause the violence the city is experiencing today. I weep for my city. Rachel Schteir wrote a scathing review of Chicago. It hurt because it was essentially true.

Enter Spike Lee, controversial director known for stepping on the nerve of society. Spike entered Chicago to film a movie about the city's violence that has given the unwanted moniker of Chi-Raq. Spike was met with opposition by city and community leaders unhappy with him naming his movie Chi-Raq. Maybe they were unfamiliar with Mr. Lee, but Spike stands on the sidelines of Madison Square Garden like a coach yelling at MJ. Did the Rahm-a-nator and others really believe they would be able to dissuade Spike? Silly rabbits tricks are for ghost pay rollers.

Undeterred as usual, Spike filmed Chi-Raq. Last week, the trailer was released along with a flurry of angry Chicagoans. People were upset that it was a comedy and not like the documentary he did on Katrina, When the Levees Broke. People were in an uproar saying Spike had ridiculed and dishonored them and the city. Folks talking about protesting the movie.

Alright people, hold on wait a minute! Before you talk about protesting Spike, how about protesting all the ratchet, ghetto reality television programming that does nothing to edify or uplift the black community? Or better yet, how about your beloved Empire? Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard are phenomenal actors and bring a passion to whatever characters they portray. Taraji's display of girl power and black girl magic supporting Regina King and Viola Davis at the Emmy's forever endured me as a fan. However, if the characters in Empire are not stereotypes then what is?!

Before you begin to burn me to the stake, let's get analytical. Have you read Aristophanes' Lysistrata? I studied Latin and am geeky about classical Greek and Roman literature. Lysistrata is one of my favorite Greek comedies. I am partial to the Douglass Parker translation. I had not seen the trailer, but when I heard it was based on Aristophanes' comedy, I immediately watched the trailer. From the trailer, it seemed like Spike paid wonderful homage to the work.

Is the violence in Chicago a laughing matter? Certainly not. However, if Chicagoans held their politicians, community and church leaders as responsible as they hold Spike Lee, I dare say things may change. On the one hand people want Spike Lee to tell the truth. On the other hand, they want to deny him artistic license. It appears as if Chicagoans expected Spike Lee to do what they could not expect of their elected leaders. They wanted Spike to be the second coming and save them.

Might I suggest reading Lysistrata to understand why it is considered a great work of literature on women trying to end the Peloponnesian war that took the lives of their husbands and sons. Maybe if you understand the play, you can understand Spike's interpretation. No, I am not related to Spike Lee. Mr. Lee is an enigma and often makes me uncomfortable. I am not saying that people should watch the movie because Spike made it. However, if you watch ratchet reality television and mad at Spike, you are a hypocrite. Equally protest shows and movies that have our young girls thinking being a thot, showing their body for likes, and fighting in public will lead to fame. No dears that is notoriety and infamy. That is not our culture nor the legacy our ancestors left us. Maybe Spike is trying to shine a light on how our obsession with ratchetness causes us to lose focus on what the real issues are? Things that make you go hmmm.

This originally appeared on Mr. Refined Lifestyle Magazine, where Ronda is a contributing writer.

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