*Spike Lee held a press conference Thursday in Chicago’s South Side, the setting of his upcoming musical “Chiraq” about the gun violence that has plagued the city.
Lee has been criticized for the title (combining the names Chicago and Iraq) from aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who told the director that the title was unfair to residents. But the filmmaker said his intent was holding up a mirror to what is happening on the ground in the city. He said the subject was “serious business” and he would approach it as “real life and death.”
Surrounded by family members holding photos of loved ones killed by gun violence in the city, Lee started off by saying he’s been working on the film for years and wanted to address recent criticism.
“A lot of things have been said about this film,” Lee said at the news conference, “By people who know nothing about the film. A lot of people have opinions about the so-called title of the film. Again, they know nothing about the film.”
Last week, Ald. Will Burns (4th) asked City Council to vote on a measure that would push the state to deny Lee’s company a $3 million tax break for shooting the film in Illinois if he moves forward with the “Chiraq” name.
“There really is no controversy around this film, except a bit of a manufactured political controversy,” said actor John Cusack, who is working with Lee on the film. “I am 100 percent sure that the great city of Chicago can survive a film of conscience, just like it did ‘Transformers.’ I love my city of Chicago, all of Chicago, and I would never do anything to hurt it.”
Many have voiced support for the film, including Chicago Bulls star Joakim Noah, who said in a statement that the title can be “perceived as a glorification of violence, but the reality of what’s happening in the city of Chicago is not something any of us should hide from.”
Lee did not reveal any details surrounding the film, which is reportedly a musical comedy, but instead discussed why he believes the film is important.
“We have to stop the madness. This is insane,” Lee said, noting that he attended a funeral on Tuesday after someone on the film’s production team was gunned down in the city. “This is not a joke, this is not a game, this is real life and death and that’s the way we are going to approach.”
He said he doesn’t feel the film will impact the city’s tourism draw or business appeal.
“I love Chicago, you know,” he said. “Wait until the movie comes out. You don’t like it, you don’t like, but wait, see it first.”
Filming is expected to take place in Chicago May 19 through July 10.