Reprinted with permission from the Chicago Tribune
The first time I heard this term I was working as a trauma physician in an emergency room on Chicago’s West Side, where bullets sometimes fly like gnats decorating the summer skies. It was part of the landscape of the gang violence so often featured on TV. Gruesome sells, and nothing seems to trend quite like a dead child or dozens of adults shot in one weekend.
On some nights, it was almost as if my hospital transformed into a morgue.
So, it was no surprise to hear that the predictably controversial filmmaker Spike Lee had latched onto Chi-raq, a tongue-in-bloody-cheek term. In his new film Chi-Raq, which opened in theaters Dec. 4, Lee apparently has managed to trivialize the suffering of the men, women and children of Chicago’s West and South sides and our troops in the Middle East.
Lee’s admittedly satirical, but nonetheless harmful, musical is based on the Greek comedy Lysistrata, in which the women withhold sex until the men stopped fighting a war. Basically, the girls won’t play until the boys put the guns away. The visceral response to why this is wrong is overwhelming, and starts with the heroines of the story. It overlooks the cycle women are often trapped in by the complex web of economic, emotional, social shackles that perpetuates abusive relationships.
Telling a woman who arrives in the ER so battered by her man that her own children scream when they see her face to just withhold sex and watch Englewood transform into the Gold Coast is absurd at best and soul-crushing at worst. This very notion entrenches the assumption that women have no power other than their vaginas.
However, while many women are indeed bystanders or unintentional victims of gang violence, to suggest that the men are monsters who care nothing about the women in their lives except for sexual pleasure is certainly not accurate. Frankly, it is an easy story to sell—to capitalize on the ease of demonizing gangbangers. For as much domestic abuse as I see, I also see men leave the ER against medical advice after coming in as victims themselves, citing a need to go home and protect their families.
The problem with Chi-Raq is that it will skirt over the bigger issues of institutionalized violence. Men are not shooting guns in any correlation to how sexually satisfied they are. Men, their wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers and daughters continue on in this cycle of violence because it is just that—a cycle with complexities entrenched in socioeconomic and political chains.
Spike Lee is an entertainer who specializes in provoking. So, congratulations, Mr. Lee. Frankly, all that you’ve really done is to perpetuate the violence of the very system you claim to want to help.