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‘Chi-Raq’ star John Cusack: ‘You can’t talk justice… unless you address the hopelessness’

Teyonah Parris and John Cusack in "Chi-Raq." | Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios

Speaking out at a press conference Monday for the upcoming Spike Lee film “Chi-Raq,” actor John Cusack responded to a question about the problems vs. the solutions with regards to the ongoing violence on Chicago’s South and West sides. He also discussed the backlash Lee has faced by some who questioned a non-Chicagoan making this particular Chicago-centric film:

On the criticism Spike Lee has received for using non-Chicagoans in the making of the film:

“When I was making ‘High Fidelity’ in Chicago, I had an English director named Stephen Frears, and we took a book that was set in England and transported it here, and no one said to me, ‘Why isn’t it a Chicago filmmaker?’ So I can only make the movie with [the late Chicago filmmaker] Harold Ramis?

“[‘Chi-Raq’] hired great, local Chicago actors. It was the first film that had open casting auditions for the people of St. Sabina. When I made ‘High Fidelity,’ Jack Black wasn’t from Chicago, and I didn’t take any s—. So I thought [this whole controversy] was a jive issue.”

John Cusack and Jennifer Hudson in a scene from "Chi-Raq." | ROADSIDE FILMS

John Cusack and Jennifer Hudson in a scene from “Chi-Raq.” | ROADSIDE FILMS

On the use of satire in “Chi-Raq” and solutions for stemming the tide of violence plaguing Chicago:

“In the tradition of satires, if you think of films like ‘Network,’ ‘[Dr.] Strangelove’ or ‘Putney Swope,’ … it’s a very difficult thing to do. The problems and solutions are mixed together. You have to pay attention because you’ll hear it. So you’ll see [Miss] Helen [Angela Bassett’s character in ‘Chi-Raq’] talking about the fact that we’re all looking at [cell phones] all day and tweeting and doing this stuff, and that’s de-sensitizing. She says [in the film], ‘We need to read more.’

“[My character] Father Corridan says you cannot talk justice unless you have the economic component, unless you talk about jobs, unless you address the hopelessness. You have other characters talking about … young men and women who haven’t had fathers, who haven’t had mothers, and have had broken families.

“One of the things I hear from Father [Michael] Pfleger in church each week, and I’m sure is repeated in mosques and synagogues and churches of all denominations throughout the country, is [about] the local communities who are taking back their communities block by block. I don’t know if we can look at Washington [D.C.] and the top down [for all the answers]. I don’t think the corporations do anything unless the people are mobilized and hit the streets. If there are enough people who care and enough people who are willing to take action, then things will change.”


Nick Cannon: “These young men [on Chicago’s South Side] are crying out”

D.B. Sweeney: “Spike Lee is a one-man, African-American jobs program”