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Everything We Know About Spike Lee’s Chiraq Film

One month in, Spike Lee’s polarizing film is mysterious as ever. Here’s what we know.

A casting call for Chiraq outside of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham.   Photo: Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune

June 4 update: Spike and co. are in town filming, and new details abound. The director posted a photo of himself and Dave Chappelle on Instagram last night, declaring the comedian “All Aboard Da CHA-RAQ Peace Train.” Additionally, the Tribune has spotted Nick Cannon and Wesley Snipes around town with Lee. And last week, jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard told Billboard that he’ll score the film, and that Common is definitely in it.

Keep your eyes peeled. The cast has reportedly been filming in Wicker Park, Bucktown, South Loop, and Englewood.

 

When TheWrap first reported that Spike Lee was making a film called Chiraq, the Internet promptly lost its mind. The outcry stemmed mostly from the film’s title, which compares Chicago’s gun violence to the war zone in Iraq: It’s fodder for voyeurs, overgeneralizes, and, in the wrong hands, could fuel self-fulfilling prophecies of gang violence. Even Mayor Rahm shunned the spotlight.

Still, a month later, there’s little more to judge other than the film’s name. Chiraq is definitely about gun violence on the South Side, and per the Chicago Film Office will film here this summer. Past that, it’s all mystifying rumors. Here’s everything we know—and the degree to which we think we know it—about Lee’s upcoming local opus.

Chiraq is about black-on-black violence in Englewood

Per our own mayor, who met with Lee at City Hall last month, Chiraq is about young, male, black-on-black violence in Englewood. Again, Rahm does not dig the title, but is all-for the conversation it will spark.

It’s also probably based on Lysistrata

According to an imperfect ScreenDaily report (more on that soon) which the Tribune corroborated, Chiraq draws inspiration from the ~400 B.C. Greek comedy Lysistrata. That’s the one where all the women withhold sex from all the men until they end the Peloponnesian War.

Will Burns wants the state to deny Lee its 30% Film Tax Credit

Miffed by Chiraq’s title, Alderman Will Burns (4th) last week posed a symbolic measure asking the state to deny Lee its 30 percent tax credit, an economic incentive he helped construct as a state legislator. Amazon Studios allegedly told Burns it expected to collect $3 million from the break in private meetings.

Kanye isn’t in it

Contrary to early reports (including ScreenDaily’s yesterday), Kanye West will not appear in Chiraq. A Yeezy spokesperson dispelled the rumor yesterday in Vulture, but said that West may contribute to the soundtrack, schedule permitting.

Jennifer Hudson, Common, John Cusack, Jeremy Piven, and Samuel L. Jackson might be in it

But really, nobody knows. Their involvement comes from the same sources that misreported Kanye’s, so it’s anybody’s guess. That said, Common did tell this reporter in March that he had some then-unannounced films in the works.

Update: John Cusack is definitely in it. See below.

There was a casting call in Auburn Gresham this weekend

And it was seriously well-attended. Saturday’s open call for men and women of all ages/races drew hundreds to Auburn Gresham’s St. Sabina Academy, the only filming location the Chicago Film Office could confirm as of this posting.

Filming should begin by June

Though May 19 has been thrown around as a potential start-date for filming, Chicago Film Office director Rich Moskal said today it was “more like June 1.” Again, no confirmed locations other than “in and around St. Sabina’s.”

Chiraq is getting shopped at Cannes

According to ScreenDaily’s (again, flawed) report, Chiraq is being shopped for foreign distribution at Cannes this week (Amazon Studios has the US distribution rights).

 

May 14 update: Lee gave a press conference at St. Sabina’s this morning where he addressed Chiraq’s controversial title. There, new deets emerged:

Kevin Willmott is co-writing the film

The University of Kansas professor and socially conscious filmmaker’s credits include Bunker Hill and mockumentary CSA: The Confederate States of America.

John Cusack is definitely in it

The Evanston native joined Lee this morning, saying he was proud to be involved with Chiraq and that Chicago could survive a film of conscience.

Spike needs everybody to chill about the title

Buffeted by photos and families of murder victims, Lee implored the media to wait until Chiraq is released to pass judgment on it, and asked that the powers that be prioritize human lives over tourism and commerce. He did not take questions.

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