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Spike Lee urges critics to reserve judgment on ‘Chiraq’ film until they see it

Spike Lee stood on the South Side — the setting for his upcoming film, “Chiraq” — and said it was time for the world to hear about his controversial project from someone other than those “who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”

“So we felt it was appropriate that we say what the narrative is — the film makers, the people doing this, not the people who are judging from afar,” the Oscar-nominated director said, speaking at St. Sabina Church Thursday morning.

So what’s the story about?

“Truth,” “justice” and “peace.” Gang violence. And Englewood.

That was about as detailed as it got, as the Oscar-nominated director and others defended “Chiraq” — a title that several city officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have said is insulting to law-abiding South Siders.

The critics were absent Thursday. St. Sabina’s pastor, Father Michael Pfleger, hailed Lee as one of America’s finest directors and praised him for hiring local African-Americans to work on the film.

“Sounds real right to me,” Pfleger said.

Mothers who’d lost loved ones to gang bullets clustered around Lee. They held up framed photographs of the lost. One woman brought an urn containing her daughter’s ashes.

Actor John Cusack, originally from the Chicago area, is in the film and said the so-called controversy is “manufactured.”

“Art must be courageous, and anybody who wants a more peaceful America will understand where the heart of this film is,” Cusack said.

The actor called Lee’s project a “film of conscience.”

“I love my city of Chicago — all of Chicago — and I would never do anything to hurt it,” Cusack said.

Lee reminded his audience that one of his earliest movies, “Do The Right Thing,” also generated criticism before its 1989 release.

“There were people who said this film is going to cause riots all across America, that black people are going to run amok,” Lee said.

Those people were wrong, as are those criticizing his latest project, the director said.

“They are going to look stupid and be on the wrong side of history,” Lee said.

The director took no questions from the two dozen or so members of the media.

He urged people to see his movie, before they make judgments.

“I love Chicago,” he said. “Wait ’til the movie comes out.”

<small><strong>Actor John Cusack, who grew up in the Chicago area, will appear in Spike Lee’s movie “Chiraq.” He appeared a news conference with Lee on Thursday at St. Sabina Catholic Church. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times</strong></small>
Actor John Cusack, who grew up in the Chicago area, will appear in Spike Lee’s movie “Chiraq.” He appeared a news conference with Lee on Thursday at St. Sabina Catholic Church. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times
<small><strong>Pam Bosley, whose son was murdered, speaks to at a press conference at St. Sabina Catholic Church to discuss Spike Lee’s movie, “Chiraq.” Lee is kneeling in front of the lectern. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times</strong></small>
Pam Bosley, whose son was murdered, speaks to at a press conference at St. Sabina Catholic Church to discuss Spike Lee’s movie, “Chiraq.” Lee is kneeling in front of the lectern. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times