Lights, camera, action

“Chi-Raq” is classic Spike Lee.

The film is also quintessential Kevin Willmott.

“It’s satirical. It’s political. It has a lot to do with sex,” says Willmott, an associate professor of film & media studies who co-wrote “Chi-Raq” with Spike Lee.

In “Chi-Raq,” Willmott and Lee take on the issue of gun violence in the urban core.

Set in Chicago, the film’s title — comparing the city’s inner city violence to that of a war zone in Iraq — comes from a “street-christened” term used by Chicago residents and street artists.

“Chi-Raq” illustrates the connection between wars and gang violence.

“A country’s foreign policy becomes its domestic policy,” he says. “You can’t be involved with wars all over the world without violence trickling down to everyday life.”

Willmott based the film on the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” — a satire about women who withhold sex from their husbands until they sign a peace treaty ending the Peloponnesian War.

Like the play, “Chi-Raq” is written largely in verse. Willmott says that element echoes the African-American traditions of spoken word and rap.

Violence, particularly black-on-black gang violence, is a theme in “Chi-Raq,” but the movie avoids excess bloodshed and gangster film tropes. As Willmott teaches his KU students: Special effects aren’t a substitute for a good plotline.

“This movie is smart,” says Willmott, “A lot of movies expose the problems of inner cities and gangs. “There’s nothing new to be learned there. ‘Chi-Raq,’ is about people trying to find a solution to the problem.”

The film was originally slated to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. Because of its Oscar buzz, the release has been moved up to December so it will be considered in the upcoming awards season.


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