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Fact-Checking John Cusack’s Chi-Raq Sermon

Sussing out the truth in Chi-Raq’s soap-boxiest scene.

John Cusack in Chi-Raq.   Photo: Courtesy of Road Side Attractions

Spike Lee’s new film Chi-Raq opens in theaters today, and already it’s been skewered for an inaccurate portrayal of Chicago. Even the film’s lead single has some blatantly false assertions about gun violence, at which Spike swings and misses by a mile in his moralistic new joint.

But no scene in Chi-Raq is more soap-boxy than a sermon given by John Cusack’s character, Father Mike Corridan, in which he eulogizes a young girl killed by a stray bullet. The potentially moving scene is bogged down by statistics, with which Lee—via Cusack’s Corridan—attempts to summarize centuries of systemic racism in America.

As with any rattling-off of facts, Spike’s stands to be checked. Here’s how that Cusack sermon holds up against the hard facts.

Claim "I’m going to talk about a life today,” Father Mike begins, dangling a handgun by one finger. “The life of a gun. This gun began its professional career when it was purchased by Tiny Tony, from Chicago, at an Indiana gun show, using a fake Indiana ID, and bypassed all of our strict gun laws.”
TRUE? Conceivably. According to a Chicago Police Department trace of about 50,000 illegal guns recovered in Chicago, 7,747 came from Indiana. That’s significant enough for Chi-Raq, but nowhere near the 22,051 bought in Illinois.

Claim "[The children of the wealthy] admire the thug life. But they do so from the safety of suburban Chicago. Kenilworth, Wilmette, Highland Park. No, no, no, no, no, this gun wouldn’t be caught dead there.”
TRUE? Nope. Here’s a gun in Wilmette. Here’s another one. Here’s one in Evanston. And Skokie and Des Plaines and Park Ridge.

Claim "Downtown, they say, ‘Unemployment is 5.7 percent.’”
TRUE? Yes! According to a set of socioeconomic indicators released by the Department of Public Health following the most recent census, unemployment in the Loop is 5.7 percent. However…

Claim "Right here in Auburn Gresham, unemployment is 21 percent, and that doesn’t even count people who have given up hope and stopped looking for work.”
TRUE? No, but the truth is even worse. Unemployment in Auburn Gresham is actually 28 percent

Claim "The per capita income is $12,000.”
TRUE? Wrong again. According to the same set of census data, the per capita income in Auburn Gresham is $15,528.

Claim "42 percent of us live below the poverty line.”
TRUE? It’s 28 percent.

Claim "30 percent don’t have a high-school diploma.”
TRUE? 19 percent over the age of 25. 

Ed. note: If this feels like a lot of hard data to have gotten wrong, don’t worry; that raised a red flag here too. It’s possible that Lee pulled numbers for Englewood instead of Auburn Gresham. While the city’s census data for Englewood is also off from these numbers, Lee’s stats closely match the ones in this Ebony story on Englewood. That lines up with Lee’s past bumbles, too: At a press conference at Saint Sabina’s in May, Lee referred to Auburn Gresham as its northern neighborhood, Englewood. He was likely enlightened in post-production.

Claim "We go from third-rate schools to first-class, high-tech prisons. Mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow!”
TRUE? Depends on which side of the political aisle you’re on. But Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander did write a book about it. It’s called The New Jim Crow.

Claim "Guns have become a part of America’s wardrobe, where it is easier to get a gun than a computer.”
true? Eh. These claims are fun to make but difficult to substantiate. The president himself has gotten into trouble with them, though in his version it’s vegetables instead of computers. As Glenn Kessler points out, there are no states in which a background check is required to buy a vegetable, and the same goes for computers. A new Glock 9mm costs around $500. HP Streams ran as low as $200 this year.

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