Filmmaker Spike Lee reached back thousands of years to a Greek comedy for the inspiration of his latest film, “Chi-Raq.”
The musical is a modern, urban telling of the ancient Greek comedy, “Lysistrata.” In that story, wives stop having sex with their husbands to try to stop them from warring.
“Chi-Raq” combines the words for the places Chicago, Illinois, and Iraq. The name refers to two deadly battlefields: the Midwestern city -- a victim of gang violence -- and the war zone of Iraq.
“Homicides in Chicago, Illinois have surpassed the death toll of American special forces in Iraq."
The Spartans and the Trojans are two competing gangs in south Chicago.
After an 11-year-old girl dies in the crossfire, the women in the area take action – or inaction. Lysistrata, the wife of Spartan gang leader Chi-Raq, leads the group. She is played by Teyonah Parris.
“We force our men to negotiate peace by exercising self-control and total abstinence from knocking the boots.”
The character is talking about sex. The women refuse to have sex with their husbands and lovers until they stop the violence.
“Chi-Raq” explores the power of women in bringing an end to violence. Like Aristophanes’ play “Lysistrata,” Spike Lee’s script is written in rhyming verse.
“Dude, this is about life and death, about a community that’s a wreck. And you want to sit here and talk about how women behave? Fool, we try to free these slaves! Slaves to the madness, slaves to this violence. And what you just want us to silence? We’re gonna make sure these fools put down these guns!”
Director Lee told VOA that sexual boycott to stop wars is not just the stuff of comedy. It can work, he said.
“A sex strike happened in Liberia, earlier, I think, 2004. A woman named Leymah Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize for using that tactic, a sex strike to stop the second civil war in Liberia. So, it worked in ancient Greece and it worked in Liberia. And there is a woman today who saw the trailer from ‘Chi-Raq’ and she is starting a sex strike movement in Chicago.”
The film deals with current political and social issues, including poverty, unemployment, racism and guns in America. The film is critical of the United States for supporting foreign wars instead of ending violence at home.
“Chi-Raq” echoes the 2,500-year-old message of “Lysistrata:” women have a unique power to end war. The legitimacy of that message, however, is debatable. Several critics already have raised objections.
Ernest Owens is one of them. He is a nationally published opinion writer, originally from Chicago. He wrote in the Huffington Post after seeing the “Chi-Raq” trailer. He expressed concern about “seeing all those black women being used only for the discussion of sexual purpose of men.”
And, of course, women around the world are fighters themselves. They serve in militaries, join rebel groups and even are members of violent gangs in America.
I’m Caty Weaver.
Words in This Story
urban – adj. of or relating to cities and the people who live in them
homicide – n. the act of killing another person
script – n. the written form of a play, movie, television show, etc.
tactic – n. an action or method that is planned and used to achieve a particular goal
unique – adj. used to say that something or someone is unlike anything or anyone else
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