So, this trailer’s out, and I have a few thoughts.
Spike Lee’s adaptation of Lysistrata as a statement on violence in Chicago’s Black communities seems provocative. And it’s certainly Lee’s prerogative as a filmmaker to explore questions of violence as a (partial) product of toxic (Black) masculinity, or of the relationship between Black men and women.
But based on the trailer, I wonder about a few things.
Is there a character representing a carpetbagging, belligerent Mayor from the North Shore by way of Washington, D.C. and Wall Street, whose wife refuses to sleep with him until he stops privatizing public resources, shoveling TIF funds from the general fund to special development interests, and closing neighborhood schools, forcing kids to cross gang territories daily? (note: Mayor Rahm Emanuel is mad about Chi-Raq, but allegedly because he fears an impact to tourism, not because of how he’s portrayed)
UPDATE: How’d I forget about the private equity multi-millionaire Governor (and oenophile buddy of the Mayor) who’s created a politically useful (but unnecessary) budget crisis in order to attack political enemies (unions) and made after-school programs collateral damage? Is he getting any in this movie?
Are there characters representing gun sellers in suburban counties and Indiana who experience sexual denial until they stop profiting from the sale of instruments of death that they know full well will end up on the streets of Chicago?
Are there police officers who are likewise denied until their department stops holding people in a secret interrogation facility without communication from family or access to lawyers? Even as the city pays out millions of dollars to reparations to victims of police torture from decades past?
Are there business executives held to account through celibacy for relocating or automating manufacturing jobs?
Are there characters including now-dead mayors, aldermen, and housing authority leaders going without their lovers’ affections in the afterlife to answer for their roles in creating the “second ghetto“?
Because if there aren’t, I question the film’s working theory of the causes of urban violence.
And, really, while the female leadership of Lysistrata and the solidarity she creates among her sisters may seem an appealing image of women’s empowerment, the idea of women as a civilizing influence on the base instincts of men can cut in complicated ways, as Ida B. Wells argued in 1901. If the presumptive thesis of Chi-Raq is (and, pardon a reductionist reading of the trailer) that Black men’s predilection for violence can be overcome only by leveraging their stronger desire for sex, then that comes perilously close to blaming Black women for the alleged crimes of Black men (because they’ve failed in that disciplining capacity), and therefore justifying the actions of white men (in 1901, the lynch mob; in 2015 the police and the prison) in containing the threat. At risk of overthinking things about a film trailer, I’m reminded of Angela Davis’s critique (in Women, Race, and Class) of Susan Brownmiller’s insinuation (in Against Our Will) that Black women’s obligation is to oppose rape, even in terms that reinforce the subjugation of Black communities through images of dangerous and pathological Black male sexuality.
There are intersectional feminists much more qualified than I to parse this, so I’m not claiming any original or definitive insight. But it is a little concerning. Of course, a trailer is not a film, and Chi-Raq may have more up its sleeve; I’m willing to pay up to find out.
In the meantime, though, if we talk about withholding as a political strategy, we could talk about withholding other things:
Withholding rent in demand of fair housing.
UPDATE: thanks to the Twitter feed of historian Matt Delmont (@mattdelmont –whose synthetic history of school busing is on the must-read list), I’ve learned that there is a documentary in production about the 1963 Chicago School Boycott.
Withholding obedience to civil authority if these don’t work.
And, if you want to see something about Black men and women resisting violence in Chicago, it might be worth your while to (re)watch The Interrupters (full version):