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The "celebrity director" is a rare and quickly fading breed, but few if any filmmakers embody that distinction more famously and enduringly than Spike Lee. The proof? Lee's newest, Chicago-set project is quickly stirring up controversy, which is admittedly nothing new for the genius provocateur behind Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever, except, in this case, Lee's latest hasn't even started shooting yet.
The trouble is the title, Chiraq (pronounced "shy-rack"), a bold yet undeniably bleak label for a city that has faced a staggering rise in gun violence over the past years, placing residents in the midst of an outrageous crime epidemic which Lee's film plans to tackle head-on. (During this past Memorial Day weekend, at least 56 people were shot, 12 fatally.)
Details on the actual plot are still scarce (though it's rumored to be a contemporary take on Aristophanes's ancient comedy Lysistrata, a battle-of-the-sexes between warring Greeks and their withholding wives), but that hasn't stopped Chicago residents and local politicians like Chicago's famously hotheaded mayor Rahm Emmanuel and South Side alderman William Burns, who feel that Lee's title unacceptably demeans their city and only amplifies the disreputable reputation that Burns and other community leaders are trying so hard to combat.
Lee, who is seeking a $3 million tax credit for the film that Burns argues he should not receive, took to the streets to respond to the accusations of insensitivity. Standing outside St. Sabina Church on the city's South Side alongside the families of gun violence victims, as well as the movie's co-star and native Chicagoan John Cusack, Lee said to his detractors, "Wait until the movie comes out. You don’t like it, you don’t like it, but see it first.”
More to come on this.