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Extra hopefuls in Spike Lee’s ‘Chiraq’ not offended by title

To Kim Hayden, a CPS teacher, Spike Lee’s controversial film title “Chiraq” represents the real Chicago.

Hayden joined more than 5,000 others who waited outside St. Sabina Academy on the South Side Saturday morning for a chance to be an extra in Lee’s new film.

“I think you have to call it what it is. Chicago is having a lot of problems with gang violence and what better way than to highlight that,” Hayden, 52, of West Beverly said. “Maybe by doing that, some good can come out of it. He’s [Lee’s] real.”

Kim Hayden, a 52-year-old Chicago Public School teacher from Beverly waits in to try out as extra in Spike Lee’s upcoming film, “Chiraq” /Tina Sfondeles
Kim Hayden, a 52-year-old Chicago Public School teacher from Beverly waits in to try out as extra in Spike Lee’s upcoming film, “Chiraq” /Tina Sfondeles

Arlinda Nava-McCain, 31, of Chatham is accustomed to auditioning for films and television. She’d made it as an extra, along with her twin sister Claudia on Chicago-based shows “Chicago Fire,” and “Chicago P.D.”

“I know he’s the true artist and I believe that he tries to paint. When you take a picture you see that image and you can look at it any way you want to, or it depends on how the person angles the camera, but I think that he will do it in a way that shows the truth,” Nava-McCain said of Lee’s efforts after her audition.

Claudia Nava-McCain, of Chatham, and twin Arlinda Nava-McCain, of Bronzeville, both 31, tried out for Spike Lee’s upcoming film “Chiraq.”/Tina Sfondeles
Claudia Nava-McCain, of Chatham, and twin Arlinda Nava-McCain, of Bronzeville, both 31, tried out for Spike Lee’s upcoming film “Chiraq.”/Tina Sfondeles

Many in the winding line — which wrapped around the entire church and school — were aspiring actors. Gina Cleveland, 20 of Austin came for a chance to be part of an influential film. And she’s not bashing Lee for the title.

“Chicago came up with the name Chiraq. So for him to do a movie based off what Chicago came up with, I think it’s not a problem. Of course we don’t want that to be the representation of Chicago, but it’s a movie. It’s not saying this is Chicago. This is what Chicago has become, which is true, and it’ just a representation of that,” Cleveland said.

Gina Cleveland, 20, of Austin, waits in line to audition for Spike Lee’s “Chiraq.” Like many others who stood in line, Cleveland was not offended by the title of Lee’s upcoming movie. / Tina Sfondeles
Gina Cleveland, 20, of Austin, waits in line to audition for Spike Lee’s “Chiraq.” Like many others who stood in line, Cleveland was not offended by the title of Lee’s upcoming movie. / Tina Sfondeles

St. Sabina senior pastor, the Rev. Michael Pfleger acted as a community liaison Saturday, offering up his church and school for the casting call. Pfleger said he’s seen a first draft of the film’s script, and he’s pleased with Lee’s dedication to finding out about the real Chicago.

“He has consulted with parents that have lost children to gun violence, brothers from the black neighborhood, journalists, school principals, I mean, the whole nine-yards,” Pfleger said of film director.

“Let me just say, trust Spike Lee. Spike Lee is a credible director, one of the best we got, coming into African-American community to do a casting call, hiring an African-American community, an African-American community dealing with issues in the African-American community. Does it get any better than that? We ought to be standing up and giving him an ovation.”

Lines of people all around St. Sabina Church, for a casting call for the new Spike Lee Joint, possibly named “Chiraq”. Saturday, May 9, 2015 (Brian Jackson/For the Sun Times)
Lines of people all around St. Sabina Church, for a casting call for the new Spike Lee Joint, possibly named “Chiraq”. Saturday, May 9, 2015 (Brian Jackson/For the Sun Times)

Last week, Ald. Will Burns (4th) introduced a resolution at the City Council meeting to reject Lee’s application for a $3 million film production tax credit if Lee chooses to name the film “Chiraq.”

Pfleger said Burns’ move is unnecessary, and may set a dangerous trend that will send film companies out of Illinois.

“I think all the controversy about the title..are you serious? First of all they don’t know what the movie is about yet. They have not seen he script. They don’t know what he’s trying to do,” Pfleger said. “Just because you don’t like the title you can threaten a tax break? The whole purpose of a tax break is to bring movies into Illinois. You’re going to run films from Illinois.”

Lines of people all around St. Sabina Church, for a casting call for the new Spike Lee Joint, possibly named “Chiraq”. Saturday, May 9, 2015 (Brian Jackson/For the Sun Times)
Lines of people all around St. Sabina Church, for a casting call for the new Spike Lee Joint, possibly named “Chiraq”. Saturday, May 9, 2015 (Brian Jackson/For the Sun Times)