Watching 'Chi-Raq' During Advent

Spike Lee's latest joint is here to teach us what lament really looks like.
Watching 'Chi-Raq' During Advent
'Chi-Raq'

Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is basically unclassifiable under traditional movie categories. Is it a comedy? Because it sure is hilarious. Is it a tragedy? For sure. Is it satire? Farce? Protest? Check, check, and check.

If we can’t classify it through the movies, let’s try poetry and music. Chi-Raq is raucous and transgressive, but most of all, it’s a lament. And lament is exactly what we—you and I—need to learn: right now, this year, this month, this week, today.

Chi-Raq opens with an overture, like an opera, Nick Cannon’s “Pray 4 My City,” lyrics printed on the screen in red against a black background. It’s a rap, a desperate cry for the listener to intercede on behalf of Chicago:

Police siren everyday
People die everyday
Mommas cry everyday
Fathers tryin’ everyday . . .
. . . It’s Chi-Raq and my city’s lost
I can’t fall victim to Satan
Please pray for my city, hurry up

Please pray for my city
Too much hate in my city
Too many heartaches in my city
But I got faith in my city

From there it’s a whirling dervish of a movie, slinging itself from wall to wall as it probes the uncomfortable tensions that sit underneath gun violence in America—specifically in Chicago, where the murder toll recently surpassed the number of American deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, combined. Children are dying from misfired bullets. Death is a fact of life, and the film boldly proclaims that everyone is at fault: gang members for picking up the guns, gun sellers in the next state over, lawmakers and leaders for failing to do their jobs.

Chi-Raq is based on Aristophanes' ancient comedy Lysistrata, performed first in Athens ...

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Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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