Spike Lee Defends “Chiraq” Film, Blasts “People Just Judging From Afar”

CHICAGO (CBS) — The title of Spike Lee’s new movie might not sit well with some, but the filmmaker was not backing down from calling his upcoming film on Chicago’s gun violence “Chiraq,” as he defended his controversial work on Thursday.

Lee plans to set his movie in Englewood, one of several violence-plagued neighborhoods that have earned the nickname “Chiraq.” Some feel that name—a blend of Chicago and war-torn Iraq—furthers negative perceptions about the city.

The label has been slapped on the city by rappers and spread through social media because of gun violence in some Chicago neighborhoods including Englewood, where Lee plans to set his movie.

Supporters have said Lee’s film could potentially expose real problems in some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods.

Lee was at St. Sabina Church on Thursday to discuss the intent of his film. In response to all the criticism of the title, Lee said, “if you do not tell the truth, then you must have fear.”

He said his movie is about putting a stop to the violence, and nothing else.

“We felt it was appropriate that we say what the narrative is; the filmmakers, the people doing this, not the people just judging from afar,” he said.

Lee said his film will hold a mirror up to reality, like the spate of violence on Wednesday, when more than a dozen people were shot, three of them fatally.

“We have to stop the madness. This is insane,” he said. “This is nothing to do about Chicago losing tourism. This is not about Chicago losing business. Let’s not put the loss of property and profit over human life.”

He said, like early critics of his film “Do The Right Thing,” those who have criticized “Chiraq” will “look stupid and be on the wrong side of history.”

“A lot of things have been said about this film by people who know nothing about the film. A lot of people have opinions about the so-called title of the film. Again, they know nothing about the film,” he said.

Lee is known for tackling tough topics on screen, as in films such as “Do The Right Thing,” about racial tensions in New York; “Malcolm X,” a biography of the slain civil rights leader; and “Clockers,” about young drug dealers in Brooklyn.

Last month, Lee met with Mayor Rahm Emnauel to discuss the film, and the mayor wasn’t happy about the title “Chiraq.”

“I told him there were very good people in Englewood who are raising their families,” Emanuel said last month. “There are very good people in Englewood.”

At a news conference Thursday morning, Lee was joined by actor John Cusack, Rev. Michael Pfleger, and dozens of parents who lost children to violence.

“Spike called me up and told me what he was up to. We met, and he looked me in eye, and he said, ‘Johnny, the only reason to do this film is to help save lives,” said Cusack, who was born and raised in the Chicago area. “I love my city of Chicago – all of Chicago – and I would never do anything to hurt it.”

Cusack said the movie is about Chicago, “but it could easily be any urban American city where poverty and violence and desperation are so ever-present.”

“I am 100 percent sure that the great city of Chicago can survive a film of conscience, just like it did Transformers,” Cusack added.

Pfleger said the city can’t ignore the reality of violent crime.

“This is proof of the reality. These are all stories of pain and tragedy, who are not going to a graduation of their child, but to a cemetery,” Pfleger said of the gathered parents of shooting victims.

Pam Bosley, whose 18-year-old son Terrell was shot and killed outside a church in 2006, said her neighborhood is “like a warzone.”

“So we need to get it together, and save our children, because this has to stop,” she said.

On Wednesday alone, more than a dozen people were shot in Chicago, three of them fatally.

Ald. Will Burns (4th) has suggested withholding $3 million in tax credits for the film if the title isn’t changed, but Lee reiterated “Chiraq” is not about the image of Chicago, but the reality of children dying.

On Saturday, approximately 5,000 people turned out for a casting call for “Chiraq.”

According to Screen Daily, the movie will be a musical comedy, and a remake of the Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” in which a woman tries to stop the Peloponnesian War by convincing women to withhold sex from their husbands until the fighting stops.

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