MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
On DVD and Blu-Ray, Streaming on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play and Vudu, Red Box.
Directed by Spike Lee. Starring Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon
I struggled for a long time about whether or not to file a review for Chi-Raq. This latest film by Spike Lee is full of the stuff that rankles many Christian viewers. It is a modern update of the 411 B.C.play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, which tells the story of the women of Greece and a sex strike in which they withheld sexual favors from men in order to stop the Peloponnesian War. This major subtext guarantees much sexual content in the retelling. In spite of occasional raunchy dialogue, sex is primarily used for satirical purposes. But the film talks and walks its sexual banter and activity, nonetheless.
The film takes place in the South Side of Chicago, a part of town that the locals have begun to refer to as “Chi-Raq” (Lee notes that he did not come up with this term himself), due to the heavy casualties of those wounded and killed by gun violence, which now exceeds the number of Americans who suffered casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The sex strike in the film is in response to the death of a little girl, killed by a stray bullet in a neighborhood gang war. The grief experienced by the community is palpable and a scene of the girl’s mother (Jennifer Hudson) cleaning the blood off of the city streets evokes the same emotions as the blood-soaked scenes of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
Sex and violence are both in ample supply. Why, then, should we care about this film?
In a word, church. Chi-Raq takes church seriously. The church in the inner city matters, for it is the foundation of faith in Christ and his offer of a better life that is the heartbeat of this film. John Cusack plays the part of the real-life Catholic priest Father Mike Corridan who serves an African-American parish and has never left the streets of his South Side neighborhood.
There is a powerful sequence early in the film of the little girl’s funeral. There is a celebration of God’s love through the singing of a gospel choir, accompanied by sacred dance. Father Mike offers up the sermon for the day, which is an impassioned plea against the senseless death of children by gun violence and a fiery polemic about the plight of the poor.
Over the past two decades I have observed The United Methodist Church (and other denominations, as well as the Roman Catholic Church) slowly shutting down urban churches and schools, downgrading neighborhood ministries from fulltime parishes to part-time mission station. Chi-Raq reminds us of Jesus’ special concern for the poor and the disenfranchised and how relevant faith is to those in greatest need.
Chi-Raq is a sprawling and, at times, a messy movie. But it is so full of life and passion, it left me energized and inspired to grow in my faith and compassion for others. It stands with Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Get on the Bus as one of Spike Lee’s best films.
Four halos: An impassioned cry against violence as well as a hopeful satire about the power of faith and community.
Four pitchforks: Brief sex scenes, violence, pervasive swearing and sexual innuendo, recreational drug and alcohol use.
Do you have comments about this movie or movie review? E-mail your comments. (Comments will be posted to our web site.)
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
COMMENTS! Do you have comments about this movie or movie review?
E-mail comments. (Comments will be posted to our web site.)
The East Ohio Conference Office:
located in North Canton, OH.
near the Akron-Canton airport.
8800 Cleveland Ave. NW ·
North Canton, OH 44720
Toll Free: 800-831-3972
Office Hours: Monday through Friday 8:30 am – 4:00 pm.
©2016 EAST OHIO CONFERENCE. All Rights Reserved.