Editorial: Spiking a block party won’t fix ‘Chiraq’

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Movie director and actor Spike Lee

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Oh, good grief. Give the church its block party permit.

Ald. David Moore’s refusal to grant a city permit to close a street for a block party on Saturday, just because the party is co-sponsored by Spike Lee and the cast of his movie “Chiraq,” is real small-town Babbitt stuff.

Big cities roll with the punches when it comes to art that might make their town look bad. We’re pretty sure New York never tried to run Martin Scorsese out of town, even when he was an unknown director making his first feature film, “Mean Streets.” How’s that for a title sure to give civic boosters heartburn?


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Big cities own up to their problems, like the fact that more than 1,000 people have been shot in Chicago so far this year. Big cities don’t duck it; they deal with it. And they certainly don’t pretend that the name of a movie, rather than the reality of the violence behind the name, is what scares the tourists and businesses away.

Nor does anybody, child or adult, living in a Chicago neighborhood beset by violence have illusions. Call the neighborhood Chiraq or Pleasantville, either way they know the dangers are real, the challenges great. They know as well, for that matter, that the neighborhood has goodness and love.

On Tuesday, in a graduation address at King College Prep, not far from where she grew up, Michelle Obama touched on that complex truth:

“I know the struggles many of you face, how you walk the long way home to avoid the gangs; how you fight to concentrate on your schoolwork when there’s too much noise at home; how you keep it together when your family’s having a hard time making ends meet,” the first lady said. “But more importantly, I know the strength of this community.”

Nobody who’s big on Chicago can love the label of Chiraq, but that’s no reason to deny Lee the usual government supports for filmmakers. Nor is it a reason to oppose Saturday’s block party at St. Sabina’s Catholic Church in Auburn-Gresham.

Until Mayor Jane Byrne came along and welcomed the makers of the “The Blues Brothers,” Chicago had a tradition of refusing to allow the filming of any movie that might remotely make the city look bad. An entire industry, rich in jobs and money to spend, was told to take a hike. How very short-sighted.

We hear Spike Lee himself is going to be at the Rev. Michael Pfleger’s block party. Should be a good time.

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