Spike Lee hits the target with modern update of Greek play

Teyonah Parris stars as Lysistrata in Chi-Raq

Teyonah Parris stars as Lysistrata in Chi-Raq

Chi-Raq is a modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes. After the murder of a child by a stray bullet, a group of women led by a black woman named Lysistrata organize against the on-going violence in Chicago’s Southside, creating a movement that challenges the nature of race, sex and violence in America and around the world.

The satirical musical drama is directed by Spike Lee and written by Lee and Kevin Willmott. Set in Chicago, the film deals with the gang violence prevalent in some neighborhoods on the city’s south side. The film is based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, a Classical Greek comedy play in which various women withhold physical affection from their husbands as punishment for fighting in war. It also notes the truelife successful effort by the women of Liberia that led to the end of their Civil War with this unique social strategy.

The film stars Nick Cannon as Chi-raq, Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata, John Cusack as Fr. Mike Corridan, Samuel L. Jackson as Dolmedes, Wesley Snipes as Cyclops, Angela Bassett as Miss Helen, Jennifer Hudson as Irene, D. B. Sweeney as Mayor McCloud, Harry Lennix as Commissioner Blades, La La Anthony as Hecuba, Felicia Pearson as Dania, Dave Chappelle as Morris, Steve Harris as Ole Duke, David Patrick Kelly as Major King Kong, Anthony Chisholm as Mr. Doctor Aesop, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Bacchos.

The term “Chi-Raq” is a mashup of “Chicago” and “Iraq,” as well as a term commonly used by South Side residents to liken the area to a war zone due to its extremely high crime rates. City residents and City Council members requested that Lee change the name of the film, going so far as to threaten the tax credits that the filmmaker received from the city. The sex scenes and language are rather graphic, so I would suggest leaving the (young) children at home.

Chi-Raq: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, featuring music from the film, was released via digital download and physical formats on December 4, 2015 by RCA Records, featuring tracks by Nick Cannon, R. Kelly f/ Tink, Mali Music feat. Jhené Aiko, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers feat. Eryn Allen Kane & Sasha Go Hard, Sam Dew, Treasure Davis feat. Kid Ink, Kymm Lewis, Kevon Carter, Sophia Byrd, Cinque Cullar, and Jennifer Hudson.

On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a “fresh” rating of 82%,” and an audience approval rating of 65%. The consensus states: “Chi-Raq is as urgently topical and satisfyingly ambitious as it is wildly uneven – and it contains some of Spike Lee’s smartest, sharpest, and all-around entertaining late-period work.” On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 76 out of 100, indicating “generally favorable reviews.”

The film has earned its R rating (for strong sexual content including dialogue, nudity, language, some violence and drug use) and runs 1 hr. 58 min. See it locally at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater, beginning December 11.