Recent news from across the country about mass shootings, and in particular the attacks in San Bernardino, has put the issue of gun violence at the center of the national debate. Having a big impact on that dialogue is a film opening Friday. Chi-raq, directed by Spike Lee, is a satire -- an intentionally comic film with, according to the filmmaker, a deeper message. It also happens to have a plot that features women solving the gun violence crisis through very unorthodox means.
As the film's title implies, the number of homicides in Chicago since 2001 has surpassed the death toll of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
That level of gun violence, Lee has said, led him to make the movie, which is a contemporary adaptation of the classical Greek comedy Lysistrata, written in 411 BCE by Aristophanes.
In both the Ancient Greek play and the current screenplay, a woman, Lysistrata, calls on the wives and lovers of men who are engaged in combat to stop the fighting, by withholding sex from their warring men. In the case of the play, it's the battling city states of Athens and Troy, and in Chi-raq, it's still Athens and Troy, but those are the names of rival south side gangs.
"They say, 'Lock it up. Lock it up,'" said actor Michelle Mitchenor, referring, in an interview with PIX11 News, to the message of Chi-raq's female cast members. Mitchenor plays the character Indigo in the film, the gang leader girlfriend of Wesley Snipes's character, Cyclops, who is himself the leader of a particularly violent gang of men.
To put the message another way, look no further than Chi-raq's movie's poster— in bright white letters, against a black background, it reads, "No peace, no piece."
"Women, we have so much power not just between our legs, but between our ears as well," Mitchenor said to PIX11 News. But, she added, referring back to women's erotic potency, "Locking that up? Men, think about it."
It's a message that its filmmaker calls very timely. "We need to have a conversation about guns in this country," Spike Lee said in a recent interview on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
"I'm not talking about taking away Second Amendment rights," Lee said. "There are certain things we can do," he added, such as "having licenses for guns, like we do for cars."