Welcome to the House of Crouse. Today we celebrate our 40th episode with filmmakers Spike Lee and Jeff Nichols. Lee talks about Chi-Raq, his audacious look at gang violence on the Southside of Chicago. Nichols, the director of Mud and Take Shelter stops by to discuss his new one, Midnight Special, and how working with Michael Shannon has mad him a better filmmaker. Stop by, sit a spell and help us commemorate our 40th show!
Richard and CP24 anchor host Nneka Elliot have a look at he weekend’s big releases, the Spike Lee satire “Chi-Raq,” the young adult dystopia of “The Divergent Series: Allegiant Pt. 1” and the Lance Armstrong biopic “The Program.”
Richard and “Canada AM” host host Beverly Thomson have a look at the weekend’s big releases: the Spike Lee satire “Chi-Raq,” the young adult dystopia of “The Divergent Series: Allegiant Pt. 1,” the Lance Armstrong biopic “The Program,” and “Knight of Cups,” the new Terrence Malick paint drier.
“The human spirit is a great thing,” says director Spike Lee on what he learned while doing research for his new film. The director spent six months in Southside Chicago, ‘talking to people, meeting people, getting the lay of the land,” before shooting a single frame of his anti gang violence movie Chi-Raq. “It was very important, not just meeting people, but people becoming comfortable with me. People opening up to me.”
The movie draws its story about a neighbourhood woman who convinces the wives and girlfriends of gang members to withhold sex from their men until the guys agree to put down their weapons from a Greek play first performed in 411 BC. but details the very modern problem of gun violence.
“At the end of the movie in that scene where everybody is dressed in white,” says Lee, “those women are not actresses. Those women are members of a group called Pain Over Purpose. They are mothers whose children, whose sons and daughters, have been shot down in the streets of Chicago. Those pictures they are holding up are pictures of their loved ones.
“The pain of a parent who has lost a child in any circumstance is something that no parent should have to go through. They all say that there is a hole in their spirit, in their soul that will never be replaced. Many of those mothers have tried to commit suicide and had various other problems since then but they are holding strong.”
The cycle of violence portrayed in the film, and acted out for real on the streets–during Chi-Raq’s thirty-eight day filming schedule 331 people were wounded and shot, 65 people were murdered in Chicago—was personal for one of the movie’s stars.
“Do you know Jennifer Hudson’s history?” asks Lee. “It is known knowledge that Jennifer’s mother, brother and nephew were murdered in Chicago. I think that’s extra gravitas that you have with Jennifer Hudson in this film. This is not an act for her. She got hit directly by gun violence on the Southside of Chicago.
“I didn’t want her to think that I was exploiting her. I knew I wanted her for the part but there was some length of time before I got the courage to approach her. Also when we did meet I was babbling. She said, ‘Spike, I know why you want me to do this film, so just stop. I’ll do it.’ I was trying to be sensitive and I turned out to just beat around the bush. I said, ‘I’ll just shut up and say thank you.’“
Lee is fearless in his handling of the material, taking chances narratively—the entire film is presented in verse—and visually, to tell the timely and hot button story of a “self-inflicted genocide.” Finding the mix of heartfelt storytelling and satire, says Lee, was crucial to the success of the film.
“It is not an easy thing to do,” he says. “I will make the great leap and say that if Stanley Kubrick was alive he would say it was hard to do it on Strangelove. I’d say the same thing for Kazan in A Face in the Crowd. I would say the same thing for Sidney Lumet for Network. It’s hard to do but it’s a great way to deal with serious subject matter.”
Words like confrontational, controversial and audacious have often been used to describe director Spike Lee. Now those same words, and more—think boisterous and dynamic for a start—and can be applied to his new film, “Chi-Raq,” a modern day adaptation of the Greek play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, first performed in 411 BC.
Set in modern day Southside Chicago a.k.a. Chi-Raq, the update sees the neighbourhood torn apart by gang violence. Rapper Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) and his girlfriend Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) are at the center of the action, a glamour couple affiliated with the Spartans. Across town Cyclops (Wesley Snipes, complete with glittering eyepatch) leads the Trojans. A nightclub shooting at one of Chi-Raq’s gigs, arson at his home and the death of a young neighbourhood girl caught in the Spartan v. Trojan’s crossfire pushes Lysistrata to find a solution to the violence that plagues her home. Her outlandish plan is simple but ingenious. She convenes the wives and girlfriends of all the gang members, Spartans and Trojans alike, and urges them to withhold sex from their men until the guys agree to put down the weapons and sign a peace treaty.
That’s the story in broad strokes. There’s more, including a seasoned community activist played by Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson as a grieving mother, John Cusack as a fiery priest and Samuel L. Jackson’s flowery-tongued one-man Greek chorus named Dolmedes but the pieces are stitched together with such daring creativity that paragraphs of description won’t prepare you for the cheeky experience of watching “Chi-Raq.” Lee mixes and matches powerful anti-violence statements, large-scale dance numbers and outrageous comedy in an olio of social commentary that shouldn’t work, but does.
When Irene (Lawrence) scrubs her daughter’s blood from the street, pouring water on the stain only to watch it spread and grow bigger, Lee effectively and lyrically makes the metaphorical point that no matter how hard you scrub, the bloodshed will increase.
Later as the women are holed up at the National Guard Armoury the men use romantic songs broadcast over loudspeakers to break their will. Just as they begin to swoon to the smooth sounds of “Oh Girl” by The Chi-Lites, Lysistrata provides them with earplugs and the sex strike goes unbroken.
The tone is all over the place, made all the more bizarre by the dialogue, which is all in verse. “The situation is out of control,” says a strip club owner (Dave Chappelle) after his employees join the strike, “and I’m in front of an empty stripper pole.” It’s today’s language filtered through Aristophanes, Tupac and Kendrick Lamar, vital and bold.
“Chi-Raq” is a heady experience. Lee is fearless in his handling of the material (he co-wrote the script with Kevin Willmott), taking chances narratively and visually, to tell the timely and hot button story of a “self-inflicted genocide.” It is powerful, preachy, maddening but ultimately unforgettable.