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Rahm Gives His Version of That Tiff with Spike Lee

The mayor continues to object to Chi-Raq’s title.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks with Politico’s Mike Allen and Natasha Korecki at the Metropolitan Club.   Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

Mayor Rahm Emanuel spent yesterday morning with Politico’s Natasha Korecki and Mike Allen, giving his first interview since asking for police superintendent Garry McCarthy’s resignation on Tuesday.

Emanuel spent most of the time discussing the Laquan McDonald case (he said he had not seen the video before last week) and explaining the task force he has selected to investigate the fatal shooting and its aftermath. The mayor also called out Allen for revealing the Emanuel family’s plans to travel to Cuba soon. Watch that tense exchange here

Then in a brief exchange toward the end of the 50-minute interview, Allen and Emanuel discussed an issue that will be familiar to most readers of this magazine.

“You had a blunt conversation with Spike Lee in January,” Allen started. “You invited him over to City Hall to chat about his movie tackling violence here, Chi-Raq. Spike Lee says in the December issue of Chicago magazine, ‘He’s not going to bully me. … [Emanuel will] be on the wrong side of history.’ Was Spike Lee right?" 

Allen was referring to this portion of Chicago’s Q&A with the director:

You’d barely announced the film when Mayor Emanuel went ballistic over the title and summoned you to City Hall in April. How did that go?

[Chuckles and shakes his head.] OK, so that’s where your mayor and I got off on the wrong foot, right away. What I didn’t like was him trying to paint me as this villain. I’m not the bad guy, but that’s how he was trying to portray it. Do I have the guns? Am I the one pulling the trigger? To be honest, he’s a bully.

You don’t get bullied?

He’s not gonna bully me. My tactic with the mayor—any bully—is to come out swinging. I said, “Mayor, Your Honor, you’re gonna be on the wrong side of history.”

Rahm, not surprisingly, had a slightly different take on what happened.

“There were about 14 people in that meeting. And his comments were about five months after that meeting,” Emanuel said. "[Lee] had a serious discussion about the content of that movie, what it reflects as relates to black-on-black violence, and he said it would lead to major changes and major discussions about a very important issue. As I said to him then, I can’t wait to have that discussion about how we have to change a culture and change the results of that culture because we are losing too many kids with too much promise.

The mayor has not yet seen the movie (it premieres tomorrow) but did confirm that he did not appreciate Lee using the term “Chi-Raq.”

“I have strong views about the title, and I expressed those views,” the mayor said. "He said the content will ignite a discussion about a topic that has not been discussed. I said I await that discussion.”

“What’s your objection to the title?” Allen asked.

“I don’t think it characterizes the city correctly.”

Watch the full Politico interview with Mayor Emanuel.


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