Chi-Raq, directed by Spike Lee, is a film set in Chicago and focusing on the gun violence that has plagued many of the neighborhoods of that city in the 21st century. The movie stars music artists like Nick Cannon and Jennifer Hudson, who rhyme their way through dialogue and form the soundtrack for the film whether in the background or in the midst of the scenes. The movie tells compelling truths through lyric and rhyme.
The shocking number of homicides in Chicago since 2001 seems to be the inspiration for the film’s title. The number of murders in Chicago since 2001 rivals the number of deaths of United States Soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq combined (From Secondary Source as of 06-Sep-2016). In Chi-Raq, Spike Lee pairs Chicago’s violent reputation with comedy, receiving help from Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, and Dave Chappelle to portray the film’s characters.
Inspired by the ancient comedy Lysistrata, also the name of the main character played by Teyonah Parris, the film humorously weighs a man’s sex drive against his desire to brandish a gun. The movie is filled with other parodies, but the main plot point is a feminine vow of abstinence designed to deter gang violence. As the women involved with men of rival gangs continue to deny the libido of their significant others, the tension builds. The stubbornness of the men and determination of the women is tested.
If one attends the movie looking for a solution to solving the homicide rate in Chicago, one will likely come away disappointed. The movie doesn’t tally many points for realism, but it does make some important points about the violence in Chicago. The film provides comedic relief while raising awareness about frustrating and long-standing problems. In the climatic end scene, there is plea for truth in spite of consequence. How can there be acceptance, forgiveness, and reconciliation without honest truth-telling? In a city consistently marred by senseless tragedies, truth seems to be a prerequisite for positive change.
Post-Post Note (12-Nov-2017):
After recently hearing part of a stand-up performance by Trevor Noah in which he drew to the audience’s attention the per capita murder rates in U.S. cities other than Chicago, it’s important to note that Chicago appears to have received media attention disproportionate to its per capita murder rate in recent years.
For example: the January to June 2015-2016 Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report (UCR) by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): Offenses Reported to Law Enforcement by State by City 100,000 and over in population lists Chicago as having 213 and 317 reported murders per population of 2,728,695 in the first half of 2015 and 2016, respectively. In the same report, Kansas City had 37 and 51 reported murders per 473,373 population, Detroit had 135 and 103 reported murders per 673,225 population, and St. Louis had 92 and 88 reported murders per 317,095 population in the first half of 2015 and 2016, respectively. Ranking risk of murder per population rather than number of murders per city looks like this…
Number of new cases of disease or injury during specified period / Size of population at start of period = incidence proportion (risk)
213 / 2,728,695 = 0.000078 or 0.008 %
317 / 2,728,695 = 0.000116 or 0.01 %
37 / 473,373 = 0.000078 or 0.008 %
51 / 473,373 = 0.000107 or 0.01 %
135 / 673,225 = 0.00020 or 0.02 %
103 / 673,225 = 0.00015 or 0.015 %
92 / 317,095 = 0.00029 or 0.03 %
88 / 317,095 = 0.00027 or 0.03 %
Based on the FBI UCR Jan-Jun 2015-2016, Kansas City ranks similarly to Chicago in risk of being murdered, and the risk of being murdered in both Detroit and St. Louis is higher than Chicago’s risk with the risk of being murdered in St. Louis nearly three times the risk of being murdered in Chicago during these time-frames. A clear look at the data is crucial to understanding the correct proportion of a problem. For these time-frames it appears Chicago should not have been the city receiving a disproportionate amount of attention for the risk of homicide.
The FBI UCR is a useful resource for examining statistics on crime in cities across the United States, and it can be found on their website.