The name is the least of the controversy for Chi-Raq

By Kierra Gray

In Spike Lee’s new film Chi-Raq, he explores gang violence and the use of sex strikes as a tactic to combat violence.

This modern-day adaptation of Aristophanes’ ancient Greek satire “Lysistrata” is set on the South Side of Chicago.

After a stray bullet kills a young child in a gang war, our modern-day Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) organizes a sex strike among women in her community, just as her ancient counterpart did. The men will get “no piece” without peace between the rival Spartan and Trojan gangs in the community, they vow.

Lysistrata’s boyfriend Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) is an aspiring rapper who heads the Spartan gang.

Lee has appeared on a variety of talk shows like The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and argued that sex strikes could combat gang violence, rape, and other violence in communities.

Not everyone agrees.

Chicago cultural leaders question the Lysistrata theme of Chi-Raq. Movie scenes drawn from the Chi-Raq trailer (Kierra Gray/Medill)(Roadside Attractions, Courtesy)

“How are you going to organize the women, other than just going to see a movie? In order to have a sex strike, you have to organize. You have to organize, you have to educate women, you have to get them to buy into the idea,” said Njoki Kamau, Northwestern University’s Women’s Center Assistant Director. Kamau said there needs to be a method of organizing the women if it’s ever going to work.

“I thought it was really spot on of what is going on in Chicago and I thought it was really inspiring of there being some level of hope.”
Movie-goer Patricia Garza

April Lawson, the founder of Women in Action for Peace Network, seemed to find a way to organize. Lawson, a real-life Lysistrata was inspired to take action by the recent murders of Tyshawn Lee and Kaylyn Pryor. Once she saw the Chi-Raq trailer she decided to create a sex strike of her own and has already about 100 volunteers.

“This is about shifting the paradigm from ‘I’m powerless and what can I do’ to ‘I am powerful and I’m beginning with the women.’ I’m beginning with ‘let’s shift that back on them and let the women reclaim their authority’ and then ‘let the men begin to say okay, we need to step in and we need to protect and honor the women and we’re all working together,'” said Lawson.

“I thought it was very unusual. It had a social message to it, but it was also just a very funny and ridiculous movie. I didn’t really know what to make of it.”
Movie-goer Timothy Janetos

But the approach also perpetuates the way society objectifies women, said Lance Williams, an associate professor of inner-city studies at Northeastern Illinois University and co-author of The Almighty Black P Stone Nation: The Rise, Fall, and Resurgence of an American Gang. Williams doesn’t agree with Lee’s approach to the community.

“I think a lot of people I know were excited that he was going to make the film. We’re kind of shocked when we found that he decided to do this Lysistrata approach and that he had gone over to work with Father [Michael] Pfleger and get his help to actually get the film made. You have to understand that Chicago is a different kind of city in the sense that the street organizations or street gangs have always been highly active in the political fiber of the community.” Williams said.

So the controversy about Chi-Raq  and the issues it raises rally on.

Official poster got the film Chi-Raq says “No peace, No piece.” (Roadside Attractions, Courtesy)