Of Course Chiraq Looks Insane, Because Spike Lee Is Insane Too

Roadside Attractions screenshot
Roadside Attractions screenshot

The first thing you have to realize when assessing the work of Spike Lee, movie director, and understanding the words and actions of Spike Lee, human person, is that Spike Lee is clearly and completely insane. But not insane in a shit on your own knuckles and fling it at an Uber driver way. Or even a "I'm not coming to Thanksgiving this year unless someone promises to put a full-sized yam in Uncle Harry's mouth so he can't rant about abortions and pre-paid legal again" way. (Basically, he's not Ben Carson.) No, Spike Lee is "Arthur Edens" (Tom Wilkinson) in Michael Clayton. His insanity manifests as unfettered lucidity. His only objective in life, only purpose, is telling the truth, regardless of how people perceive it (the truth) and him. Now, whether his version of the truth is actually true is inconsequential. What matters is his fanatical pursuit of it and his complete and utter apathy to how he's perceived.


This state of being can also be described as "giving no fucks." There are other celebrities (Rihanna, Tom Hardy, Vladimir Putin, etc) known for also existing in that space. But when your public persona is crafted around the idea that you give no fucks, it's proof that you give enough fucks to craft a public persona around the idea that you give none. Spike Lee, however, doesn't even give enough to want people to know he's out of them. He just produces consistently insane work and says consistently insane things, and allows us to assess them however we choose to. Consider Jungle Fever, a movie about the crack epidemic and its effect on cities and families that's hiding inside of a movie about an interracial love affair. Only an insane person would create this movie that way. Only an insane person would name the main characters Flipper and Gator. Only an insane person would conjure and craft this amazing fucking scene.

Consider School Daze, a movie released when he was 30 years old. This is great movie. It is also a movie clearly made by an insane person. Only an insane person would create a movie about the HBCU, film it at Spelman, Morehouse, and Clark (the nexus and genesis of the Black bourgeoisie), show all of the dirt — the classism, the colorism, the effete administrators — and then say "Fuck it. I'm going to make this a musical." He did not care that the people at Spelman and Morehouse and Clark would be so offended that he had to finish filming at Morris Brown. Again, he just wants to tell us — Black people and White people — his truth about us.

When you accept this, that Spike Lee possesses a very particular grade of sincerely fuck devoid insanity, his work makes more sense. Sometimes it works like hell (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, When the Levees Broke, Four Little Girls). Sometimes it doesn't (She Hate Me, Bamboozled). And sometimes it leaves you wishing Spike Lee had made the movie a bit less Spike Lee (He Got Game).

And, after viewing the trailer to Chiraq, it looks like a quintessential Spike Lee joint. Everything we've come to know and love and hate about his work seems to be present here. Counterintuitive casting decisions. Intentionally provocative and antagonistic subject matter. The absurd bordering on completely batshit — and kinda, sorta, pornographic — sexual imagery and politics. The unambiguous allusions to classical works. The conglomeration and congealing of genre. Samuel L Jackson. Its almost as if he makes movies for audiences who have never seen an actual movie before. Which is genius. And, again, insane. Because Spike Lee is insane too.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



I really want to reserve judgement until I've seen it. The title and the trailer have already caused me some serious cognitive dissonance.
At this piont, watching a Spike Lee Joint is one of those things that you're SUPPOSED to do to keep your Black Card. It doesn't really matter how insane he is, if you don't see the movie or have a "good" reason why you won't see the movie, then you become the insane one.