Spike Lee accused of ‘stigmatizing’ Chicago as ‘Chiraq’

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Director Spike Lee was accused Friday of “stigmatizing” Chicago and “insulting” its residents by choosing the name “Chiraq” for his upcoming Chicago-based movie on violence and education.

“It’s very offensive and, hopefully, he rethinks his position. He definitely needs to change the name. That’s an insult to the city of Chicago. I don’t care what he changes it to, but not that one,” said Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee.

“People are stigmatizing Chicago unnecessarily. We have a lot of good communities. Yes, we have challenged areas and we’re attacking those challenging areas. But we don’t need anybody coming in trying to highlight the problems we’re having. To stigmatize our city as Chiraq is an insult to me and, I’m sure, to the rest of the residents of Chicago.”

Even if Lee handles the subject of violence with sensitivity in the film, the name alone would be destructive to the city’s efforts to attract jobs and take its rightful place as an international city, Beale said.

“We’re trying to attract tourism. We’re bringing jobs in to Chicago. The city is growing. We’re trying to promote the good things in this city every single day. To highlight the problems we’re having with that type of name is an insult,” he said.

What about the First Amendment?

“Freedom of expression still does not mean you can insult the people of this city,” Beale said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was less pointed in his criticism of the title for Lee’s upcoming movie, which follows a first quarter that saw shootings spike by a troubling 40 percent and homicides rise by 26 percent over the same period a year ago.

But it was clear that the mayor was none too pleased. If he wants to press the issue, Emanuel could use the Hollywood pipeline provided by his brother, super-agent Ari Emanuel, to make his feelings known to Spike Lee.

“We have a lot of work to do to make sure all our residents have the safety and security they deserve, and that’s what I’m gonna be working at,” the mayor said after an unrelated news conference at Union Station.

Two months ago, Emanuel unveiled a new marketing campaign to build on the record 50.2 million visitors who came to Chicago last year.

The 3.5 percent increase in visitors last year enabled Chicago to set a tourism record. But roughly 48.6 million of those visitors were domestic tourists. Chicago has a long way to go in the all-important battle for international visitors, and Lee’s title won’t help.

Asked whether he considers the title of Lee’s upcoming movie “destructive” to his efforts to boost international tourism,” Emanuel said, “The commentary by the [rapper] who actually developed that comment said that this doesn’t reflect what his vision was.”

Emanuel was referring to South Side rapper Aaron Pierce, who has started an “Anti-Chiraq” campaign on social media because he believes the label “belittles” and “dehumanizes” Chicago.

Even U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he’s “concerned” about Lee’s designated title for the movie to be filmed in Chicago, possibly starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Piven, Common and Kanye West, according to the Hollywood news site “The Wrap.”

“There’s no question that Chicago, as most cities, has its share of violence, but the honest answer is we’ve seen a decline in the numbers. . . . So I hope this is not creating an image of the city that is unfair,” Durbin said.

“It is worrisome. I’d like to know what the message is in the movie. If the message is a positive one about the progress that is made, then perhaps it will be to the benefit of the community. But I hope it’s a fair analysis of the reality of violence, but also the reality of what’s been done at all levels of government to deal with this violence and to reduce it in Chicago.”

For years, Chicago’s international reputation was marred by the fact that it was the home of Al Capone. The mobster was supplanted as the face of Chicago only after Michael Jordan arrived on the scene to carry the Bulls to successive three-peats as NBA champions.

The “Chiraq” label gained steam after a particularly bloody 2012 when Chicago became known as the murder capital of the nation after recording 504 homicides.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Sneed reported this week that Lee has made repeated visits to Chicago in recent weeks to scout locations for his upcoming movie and interview victims of gang and gun violence.

She reported that Lee was accompanied by Chicago natives John and Joan Cusack at Sunday’s Easter Mass at St. Sabina Catholic Church.

Father Michael Pfleger even noted in a January Facebook post that Lee had visited St. Sabina’s and interviewed people and school principals dealing with violence, as well “as Brothers from the Blocks” and “Parents who have lost their children to Violence.”

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