Spike Lee Says Chicago Mayor Objected to Chi-Raq Film Title

Director Spike Lee

If ever there were two men known for their strong personalities and not holding back on their opinions, those would be film director Spike Lee and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

They are also known for being proud of their home towns, cities known for their rivalry. Lee, 58, is from New York City, and Emanuel, 55, is from Chicago. So you can imagine the conversation when Emanuel invited Lee to a meeting in April to discuss his controversially named film Chi-Raq. In short, Emanuel reportedly didn't like the title, which emerged from the streets of Chicago as a conflation of the city's name with that of Iraq, a city where thousands have died in the conflicts that followed the U.S. invasion in 2003 to topple the dictator Saddam Hussein.


Lee spoke with Chicago magazine about his meeting with Emanuel to discuss the movie, which began filming on June 1 and finished on July 9.

"OK, so that's where your mayor and I got off on the wrong foot, right away," he said in response to a question about how the meeting went. "What I didn't like was him trying to paint me as this villain. I'm not the bad guy, but that's how he was trying to portray it. Do I have the guns? Am I the one pulling the trigger? To be honest, he's a bully."

When asked how he handled Emanuel's demand, Lee said, "You know I'm from Brooklyn, so. … He's not gonna bully me. My tactic with the mayor—any bully—is to come out swinging. I said, 'Mayor, your honor, you're gonna be on the wrong side of history.' "

That history shows that during the one-month period he was filming, Lee told the magazine, "331 people got wounded, 65 murdered. New York City has three times the population of Chicago; Chicago has more homicides than New York City."


Further, Lee said, Chi-Raq is a hot-button topic because the mayor really doesn't want it to go worldwide "on his watch." Drawing parallels to his 1989 film about New York City, Do the Right Thing, he said that the United States frequently values white-owned property over human life. 

"That film was a litmus test, because when I read reviews and the critics lamented the loss of Sal's Famous Pizzeria and never talked about the loss of life of Radio Raheem," he told the publication.

Read more at Chicago magazine.

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