CHICAGO (CBS) — Spike Lee’s controversial new film Chi-Raq – a nickname given to Chicago neighborhoods plagued by violence – will be Amazon’s first foray into producing theatrical films, with a big screen debut reportedly set for December.
It has been rumored for weeks that Chi-Raq would be Amazon’s first original movie, as the online company expands its streaming offerings. Amazon officially confirmed the news on Wednesday.
“Spike Lee is one of the most distinct and visionary filmmakers of our time,” said Ted Hope, Head of Motion Picture Production at Amazon Studios. “It would be impossible to find a better filmmaker with whom to launch our studio. He has a unique voice, a distinct eye, and he tackles important subjects with humor and heart, pointing to solutions and not exploiting the problems. Chi-Raq may be his greatest, and definitely his boldest film yet—everything about it is distinctive.”
Although Amazon has not said when the film will hit theaters, or its streaming video service, The Hollywood Reporter has reported the movie will have a limited release in December to qualify for the 2015 Academy Awards, and then officially open in early 2016, and shortly after be available for streaming to Amazon Prime customers.
Lee’s film has sparked criticism from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several Chicago aldermen for his decision to title it Chi-Raq, a blend of Chicago and war-torn Iraq, fearing it furthers negative stereotypes about violent crime in the city.
The filmmaker has defended his movie, blasting critics for “judging from afar” without knowing anything about the film’s subject matter, and said they will “look stupid and be on the wrong side of history.
Lee has said his film will hold a mirror up to the reality of violent crime in Chicago.
“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.
The film features Chicago natives Jennifer Hudson, Harry Lennix, and Steve Harris; Evanston native John Cusack; alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Teyonah Parris, and D.B. Sweeney.