We’ve been hearing rumblings for a while about Spike Lee’s upcoming movie Chi-Raq — mainly that Lee wanted to cast Kanye West, that Kanye wasn’t cast but might contribute to the soundtrack. It sounded like an intriguing concept, one of history’s leading black filmmakers making a movie about Chicago’s gang-riddled urban neighborhoods. But one bit of intel was more than a little disconcerting: Chi-Raq would not be a drama but musical adaptation of Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata.
When the trailer dropped last week, depicting the women of Chicago going on “sex strike” until the men agreed to stop the violence, many Chicagoans including journalist Ferrari Sheppard and rappers Lil Durk and Fredo Santana criticized Lee for making light of the city’s problems. Lee responded that although Chi-Raq is funny, it’s not a comedy but a satire:
The trailer was released and there’s very humorous moments in the trailer. Some people are going to twist it and think that this is a comedy. Chi-Raq is not a comedy. Chi-Raq is a satire. And there’s a difference between satire and comedy.
OK, maybe Lee deserves the benefit of the doubt until the movie’s 12/4 release date. The world can withold judgment for a few more weeks. But as Deadspin points out, the director has shared a musical number from Chi-Raq that suggests the film will deserve its growing reputation as an object of contempt.
The footage presents Kevon Carter in a church performing a weepy, John Legend-esque piano ballad about black-on-black violence that clumsily references the Bill Cosby scandal, Cecil the lion, and the Drake/Meek Mill feud among other 2015 headlines. These lyrics sum up the gist of the song: “What’s the use of saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ if we’re going to kill ourselves… What’s the use of saying ‘I can’t breathe’ if we’re choking ourselves?” It’s a debatable sentiment, one Kendrick Lamar caught some flack for expressing. What seems more clear cut is that this song suuuuuuucks, and it bodes poorly for Chi-Raq. “We gotta do better,” Carter sings. Yes, but maybe not like he meant it.