How Spike Lee’s Chiraq places black American violence in a global context

‘Chiraq’ is a modern day film adaptation of the ancient Greek comedy, Lysistrata, by the award-winning and famously controversial director, Spike Lee. The movie, which is set to be released on December 4, satirises the issue of gang violence in Chicago, USA, placing it in the context of the Peloponnesian War. It highlights the measure that was taken by a group of women, led by Lysistrata, to embark on a sex strike and put an end to the violence.

The trailer for the movie was recently released, and its comic approach to violent crime in Chicago resonated offensively to viewers, making Chiraq the subject of harsh criticisms on various media platforms. According to some critics, the movie sexualises the events in Chicago, while residents are experiencing loss and violence on a day to day basis, which is far from comical or sexy. Others have come to the conclusion that the movie is sexist, as it uses women as sex props in a hypersexualised portrayal of events.

While Spike Lee might have failed a majority of Chicagoans with his latest movie, two things will stand true; Chiraq is the product of an individual who seeks to educate, but ultimately to entertain, and the story of Lysistrata which the movie is takes it roots from should prove that much. Secondly, the history of sex strikes – an integral part of the movie that a number of these critics are probably overlooking – is a bit more complicated than the hypersexualisation that most critiques have accounted for.

In fact, even though the notion of sex strikes as a means to achieve any form of social change in a movie or real life is being greeted with derision by a lot of the offended critics, it symbolises a method that women around the world have chosen to use.

Sex strikes have been used in more recent times by women in Kenya (2009), Liberia (2003), Colombia (2006), Belgium and the Philippines (2011), to mention but a few. Albeit with its fair share of conflicting messages as far as women are concerned, it is impossible to overlook or underestimate the real purpose behind any sex strike – women unafraid to sacrifice themselves for a greater good if it means the people and environment that they love could benefit from that sacrifice.

Liberia is one example where that sacrifice paid off. In 2003, Leymah Gbowee led a visionary group of women in the protest to end the rule of the dictator president, Charles Taylor. It is recorded as one of the successful sex strikes in history, and its events were portrayed in the award-winning documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.

Another instance of a successful sex strike happened in Kenya when the women’s actions helped stabilise the government within one week, after months of disorganisation.

While we can only judge Chiraq by the trailer, it’s particularly interesting to see black violence in the U.S. connected to a global method of protest. It may read belittling to some, but it does contextualise the violence, which affects these communities to the aforementioned events in Kenya and Liberia. Perhaps evaluating the film, or trailer, in this context could suggest that is in fact Lee’s real intention- to draw connections to violence which America can see in Colombia and Belgium, but fails to recognize in its very own midwestern capital, Chicago.

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