Spike Lee Blasts Chicago Mayor Over 'Chi-raq' Movie Title

"... He’s a bully... He’s not gonna bully me."
Johnny Nunez via Getty Images

Spike Lee has received criticism from local officials ever since announcing his intentions to make a film highlighting black on black gun violence in Chicago.

In a candid interview with Chicago magazine, Lee shared his feelings on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's disapproval of the film’s title of "Chi-raq," a popular nickname coined by local rappers who compare the city’s crime rates to an Iraqi warzone.

“What I didn’t like was him trying to paint me as this villain. I’m not the bad guy, but that’s how he was trying to portray it,” he said. “Do I have the guns? Am I the one pulling the trigger? To be honest, he’s a bully... He’s not gonna bully me.”

In April Lee met with Emanuel to discuss his plans for the project. According to the filmmaker, Emanuel had concerns over the film affecting the city’s “economic development.”

“His whole thing was, the title is going to hurt tourism, the title is going to hurt economic development. But what tourism is he talking about? While we were shooting the film, you had the NFL draft here. Quarter million people in Grant Park… So this part of the city is booming,” he continued in the magazine. “But there are no bulletproof double-decker buses going through the Wild Hundreds [the gang-infested area from 100th to 130th Streets] or through Terror Town [a two-by-four-block patch of South Shore]. What economic development is going on in the South Side?”

This spring the city’s alderman William Burns said the film’s title is a “slap in the face” to residents who pay their taxes and work to clean up the city’s negative image. He also questioned Lee's choice to come from New York to do a movie about Chicago.

For Lee, the reception he received during his time filming in the city in June was contrary to Burns’ comments.

“There’s this perception that all of Chicago didn’t want me here. ‘Spike, get the f*ck out of here, go back to New York.’ But everywhere I went — North Side, West Side, South Side, black people, white people — I got nothing but love our entire time here. Love,” he said in the interview.

“As I’d be walking the streets, going to games, the airports, everybody would say, ‘Keep Chi-Raq. Don’t change the title. F*ck him,’” he said of one encounter. “I swear on my mother’s grave. They are coming up to me. I’m not soliciting it.”

“Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq” is set to hit theaters and Amazon Prime in December. Read more of Spike Lee’s candid Chicago magazine interview here.

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