Festival Review: Chi-Raq (2016)


A dazzling rap musical against the epidemic of gun violence amongst Chicago’s black communities, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is sensational.

Black Power Mixtape

by Mark Wilshin


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

When Spike Lee proposed his plans for a rap adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, producers must have wondered. But with participation from the best of the best black actors (Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Wesley Snipes and Jennifer Hudson) as well as the hottest of the hot (Nick Cannon and Teyonah Parris), Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is a rhyming extravaganza of musical numbers, outrageous costumes and sassy dialogue. While there are comparisons to be made with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet or Walter Hill’s The Warriors, Chi-Raq isn’t just a way to get young people to get to grips with ancient classics. But rather, in its story of rebellious women withholding sex from their menfolk until there’s an end to gang violence, it carries an urgent message against gun deaths. With statistics exposing the size of Chicago’s gun problem (with more deaths than in Iraq) and a desperately moving performance by Jennifer Hudson as a mother grieving for her dead daughter gunned down by a stray bullet, Chi-Raq gets away with a lot, its most awkward or unduly exuberant moments easily forgiven due to the immensity of its message or fidelity to its original source. There’s no doubt it’s hyperbolic, ramming its point home time and time again, through pastors’ speeches and quiet, educational conversations with Lysistrata’s mentor Miss Helen. But through music, celebrity and sheer pizzazz, Chi-Raq uses every weapon in its arsenal to get cinema-goers to reflect on the state of the nation. Urgent, clever and a lot of fun, Spike Lee’s latest is a classic in the making.

Chi-Raq is now showing at the 66th Berlin Film Festival

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