Chance the Rapper Speaks Out Against 'Chiraq,' and Lee Fires Back

By Annie Zidek

Courtesy of Twitter/  @pitchfork

Courtesy of Twitter/ @pitchfork

On the night of November 24th, Chicago finally released the police dashcam from the shooting of Laquan McDonald, which clearly showed McDonald shot down mercilessly sixteen times by a police officer. As a result, people walked in protest against the city’s (as well as the nation's) institutionalized racism. Meanwhile, miles away in New York City, Spike Lee casually discussed his upcoming movie Chiraq on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, adorned in all of his accessories.

Clearly, Lee is a provocateur and is known for pushing boundaries with his work. But with his new movie Chiraq, Lee has gone too far. While the movie seems fitting and socially aware in light of the recent gun violence--both at and within the Black community--the movie almost seems to make a mockery of the gun murders in Chicago.

The title Chiraq in and of itself stirs the image of a violent and bloodstained Chicago, which Lee touches on in his interview with Colbert.

"Local Chicago rappers came up with that name and felt that, not all Chicago, but the South side Chicago, is a warzone, and so they feel, probably even today, that it's safer in Iraq than it is on the Southside of Chicago," Jones told Colbert. He's right. The gun violence in Chicago is a grim reality, leaving some parts of the city truly feeling like a war zone.

Chiraq is based on Lysistrata, a Greek myth wherein the female protagonist bands all the women in Greece together to withhold sex from their men until peace was achieved. The result: the end of the Peloponnesian War. In Chiraq's modern translation, the women in the movie decide to abstain from sex in order to force the men to stop the violence, shootings, and murders that are happening in their city.

Okay, let’s sit back and think about this: Lee really thought he could urbanize an ancient Greek myth successfully by relating it to a very real modern issue (the war-like gun violence in Chicago) with rhyming dialogue? He thought the people of Chicago would totally appreciate him relating their losses of sons and fathers and uncles and friends to a myth revolving around sex?

Many people have spoken up about the absurdity of Lee’s film, including the born and raised Chicagoan Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, better known as his stage name Chance the Rapper. He called out Chiraq on Twitter, vocalizing his frustration and disdain towards the insensitive movie.

Chance the Rapper is unlike any other rapper. He is revolutionary. He’s impacted inner city kids through his personal musical narratives, he’s reached the suburban teens during his performance at Lollapalooza in 2014, and is now touring all over North America. His music is an orchestral celebration of life, a visceral take on Chicago living. He cares about his fans, and shows this by making all of his songs free on Soundcloud.

With a prominent place in the rap community, Chance the Rapper can give a voice to the voiceless affected by troubling circumstances. One issue in which he cares deeply about is the gun violence affecting the city of Chicago. So it's no surprise that the representation of gun violence in Lee’s Chiraq deeply upsets Chance. The 22-year-old has advocated anti-gun violence ever since his music has given him a platform to do so.

He uses his music as a tool to raise awareness to this issue. In the third track on his album Acid Rap (called “Paranoia”), he illustrates the effects gun violence has on kids. The song is the pinnacle of his concern, and a musical narrative for the issue. He discusses how prominent the issue is at his age, and one way he does so is showing how school serves as a safe space: You’re indoors for most of the day, hidden from the perils of gun violence. But then there’s summer, the season of vulnerability:

“...everybody dies in the summer.
Wanna say ya goodbyes, tell them while it's spring.

I heard everybody's dying in the summer, so pray to God for a little more spring.”

And it frustrates him that the media doesn’t seem to care about the kids being murdered in the city. There is a distinct lack of media coverage and awareness towards these issues, as he addresses this in “Paranoia:”

“They murking kids, they murder kids here
Why you think they don't talk about it? They deserted us here
Where the fuck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here.”

Not only is Chance the Rapper vocal about gun violence in his music, but he also expresses his concern for the issue outside of the musical realm. On May 23rd, 2014, Chicago made it 24 hours without any shootings. The rapper posted a celebratory Instagram pic featuring supportive texts from his dad.

Photo Courtesy of Chance the Rapper's Instagram

Photo Courtesy of Chance the Rapper's Instagram

Following the photo was Chance’s heartfelt note about the 24 hours.

“#may23rd came and went, and we all made it. Thank you so much Chicago. Thanks to the community organizers and Radio stations that helped. And thanks Dad for teaching us to be hands on, there is no change with us. #takingbackmycity #socialexperiment”

With such a strong advocacy for less gun violence, Chance should be upset about the misrepresentation of Chicago’s bloodshed. Lee’s urbanized attempt at Greek mythology is disgraceful. It belittles the struggles of the families who are personally affected by the gun violence in Chicago. Chance the Rapper is merely vocalizing his distress towards the movie’s false representation of the loss endured by families affected by this pressing issue. 

A week later, however, Chance received backlash from Lee. In an interview with MSNBC, Lee responds to the criticisms on Twitter, pointing out Chance's faults on stance with gun violence.

"Chance the Rapper should say with full disclosure [that] his father works for the mayor. He's the chief of staff," Lee said.

And in light of the suspicions of Mayor Rahm hiding details from the shooting of Laquan McDonald, this puts Chance at a crossroads. He called out Lee for being an "outsider" to gun violence, but he's the son of a man affiliated with an alleged leading player of hiding police brutality in Chicago.

Along with pointing out Chance's flaws, Lee also illustrates a misconception Chance had about the film wherein he called it "exploitive." Lee notes Jennifer Hudson's involvement with Chiraq in an attempt to prove the movie's integrity. "She plays a pivotal role," Lee said. In 2008, Hudson lost her mother, her brother, and her nephew to gun violence when the husband of Hudson's sister shot them in their Chicago home. Bringing to light Hudson's personal history and her involvement with the movie begs the film's credibility on the issue. 

Regardless, people like Chance the Rapper still feel like Chiraq is a misrepresentation of the violence happening in the streets of Chicago. They feel the movie is insensitive and almost mocks the lives of those affected by gun violence. The uproar is fierce, and the boycotts and shouts of opposition speak louder than words ever could.