Spike Lee Film "Chiraq" Triggers Black-On-Black Violence Debate

A new Spike Lee film about black-on-black violence that is still in early production has already stirred up controversy just with its title: Chiraq. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he doesn't like it because it stigmatizes communities and gives the whole city a bad name. We talk with a local filmmaker with an anti-violence message, as well as experts on black-on-black violence to get their take on the controversy.

Joining us are Anthony Sturdivant, a man from the west side of Chicago who is trying to combat the gun violence in his community with a series of short films on YouTube called "Think Before You Shoot", Waldo Johnson, Associate Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, and Eddie Bocanegra, a former gang member who’s committed to preventing violence and Co-Executive Director of YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago’s Youth Safety and Violence Prevention programs.


Spike LeeTaking on the subject of black-on-black violence, Director Spike Lee plans to film his newest movie in Chicago’s Englewood community. But the working title has already stirred controversy.

“Would you want to go someplace named Chiraq,” said Ald. Will Burns (4th). “I don’t think so.”

The gang-affiliated title is being seen as “offensive” and “angering” to those who are involved in the day-to-day work of transforming communities and neighborhoods on the south and west sides of Chicago, according to Burns.

“For folks who play by the rules, mow their lawns, raise their kids, and try to build a neighborhood and community, it’s giving the gangs control of the neighborhood,” said Burns.

For Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), it might be too late to change the title.

“I don’t quite like the title, but unfortunately, it’s all over the media,” said Burnett. “I just hope he paints a broader picture of the city. Of course, like any city in the world, you have some good and you have some bad.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already expressed his own concerns to Lee about the film.

Ald. Will Burns“We had an honest, frank conversation,” Emanuel said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “He said that while the movie is about the neighborhood of Englewood, I was clear that I was not happy about the title.”

Lee and Amazon Studios are hoping to collect a $3 million tax break for the film.

“Lee has every right to make the movie without availing himself of the tax credit, in which case he can call it whatever he wants to call it,” said Burns. “But if you’re asking for the state and public to subsidize your movie, I think we should have a seat at the table.”

While Burns believes the film will address the violence in Chicago, it could also encourage discussions about racial segregation, gun control, and concentrated poverty in American cities.


Listen to a young man in Chicago navigate violence and peer pressure as he becomes an inspiring leader to his peers in South Chicago Story Squad’s Chiraq High School by Marquise Paino, Ish Harris, Malek Hunter and the Story Squad.


Anthony Sturdivant joined Chicago Tonight in February 2014 to discuss his short films. Watch the conversation below and check out some of his short films.