“This is an emergency!” Spike Lee proclaims at the outset of his latest feature. There is an anger coursing through Chi-Raq that hasn’t been felt in the director’s work for some time; as passionate as it is preachy – and not to its detriment – this intelligent satire is a fist-pumping address to the nation on gun violence, and Lee’s best film in years.
While the “No peace, no pussy!” chorus chanted by Lysistrata and her followers might initially seem reductive in its depiction of female agency, it is through this threat to withhold sex from the warring gang members that the real target of Lee’s film comes into view. In the end, Chi-Raq is just as concerned with gun control as it is with confronting the destabilising and violent effects that hyper-masculinity and its associated codes of urban conduct have on the terrifying mortality rate of the nation’s less privileged black youth.
Since Lee’s debut, She’s Gotta Have It, there has always been a musicality to Lee’s dialogue, but in his retelling of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata Lee goes further to fuse together urban patois with iambic pentameter to find vibrant poetry in the seeming contradiction. The striking dialogue – delivered with conviction by the all-round great cast – points to the timelessness of the themes while working reflexively to draw attention to a fundamental lack of representation in particular artistic spheres, a conscious device echoing the same anger that fuelled the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in which Lee was a key player.
Utterly unafraid to point its finger, Chi-Raq is nothing less than a rousing success. Spike Lee is back to spit venom at the institutions that have failed to address the gun violence that plagues the nation; there is no question that you will feel the heat of the emergency.
CAST: Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack
DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
WRITER: Spike Lee
SYNOPSIS: After the murder of a child, a group of women form an organisation to stop the violence, vowing to deny their men sex until they cease the gang warfare.
Chi-Raq was reviewed as part of One Room With A View’s coverage of the 66th Berlinale Film Festival, which runs 11-21 February 2016.