Spike Lee’s new film Chi-Raq addresses the scourge of gun violence in contemporary society. He adapted Aristophanes’ Lysistrata to the present day streets of Chicago where more people die from guns in a day than US military in Iraq. Teyonah Parris leads his all-star cast as Lysistrata. She is at her wits’ end over the non-stop violent deaths of men in her community. She asks the women to join her to make it stop. They will withhold sex until their men stop killing one another. It’s wryly funny, satirical and packs a powerful punch. Spike Lee who wrote and directed the film, arrived for our interview at the Struck Contemporary Gallery in Toronto all by himself. He’s soft-spoken and a man of few, well considered words.
You’re traveling on your own, no entourage.
Always! I never travel with an entourage.
When did this project come to mind? Was it before #BlackLivesMatter?
Oh, yes, six years ago. I couldn’t get it done so we tried again.
Was it too inflammatory?
Well I’ve come to learn that everything is timing and back then wasn’t time.
Now is a great time
Yes it is!
What was your purpose?
To shine a light on this epidemic of guns, not just in black neighbourhoods. In America, ninety nine Americans die every day due to gin violence. It’s documented. Ninety nine Americans die every day from gun violence one third of those are suicides. This is America’s love fest with guns and violence that we’ve seen throughout the years.
I wonder why it’s not like that here, just right next door
I guess you’d have to ask some Canadian scholars. I can’t speak intelligently about the history of Canada nor will I try. Haha.
You’re so keen that we define the film as satire not comedy. But who on earth would take gun violence and death lightly? It’s not funny.
If you don’t understand it’s a satire you’re going to think it’s a comedy and if you think it’s a comedy, then you think we’re laughing at people being killed and it’s not the case at all.
You spell it out and you’re two steps there already.
I did the film Bamboozled and at the beginning of the film we had the lead character give the Webster’s dictionary definition of the word “satire” and people still didn’t get it.
It’s sad too.
The heart of the gun problem in my humble opinion is inconsistent education.
And today kids are playing video games where you get points for the more people you kill the more points you get. Kill shots.
Does it scare you?
Before we played cowboys and Indians with cap guns but it wasn’t real like the video games are now, so lifelike.
Jennifer Hudson plays a mother whose child has been killed in gun violence and that’s similar to her own story.
She lost her mother, brother and nephew due to gun violence in Southside Chicago
Brutal. And imagine here she is playing it out. Was it healing for her?
Yes it was brutal. I didn’t ask her if it was healing. I didn’t direct her. I just rolled the cameras, she knew what she had to do and I just let her go. You want me to ask her how she felt about those scenes? I didn’t. I just gave her a hug, I didn’t say nothing, just gave her a hug.
And you also got Dave Chappelle back in front of the camera after ten years. How? Was it the subject matter?
I don’t ask people why they want to do it. I’m just happy they want to do it. The fact that they were there is all I need. And he’s very funny in the strip club scene.
The young lead, the leader of the women’s revolt, Teyonah Parris was amazing.
I first saw her in the film called Dear White People and that’s how I become aware of her. She did the job and then some.
And you’ve got Wesley Snipes.
Wesley is back, we got Samuel L. Jackson, Roger Smith, Angela Bassett all working on it.
The film is based in Greek mythology, so it is in verse and has a specific flow. Did it affect the actual shooting?
The verse? Not at all. It wasn’t a problem at all. The filming wasn’t done differently because people were speaking in verse.
Watch the trailer!