Netflix isn’t the only streaming video service making a play for Oscar this year. Yesterday, Amazon announced that Spike Lee’s latest joint, Chi-raq, will come out in the heart of Oscar season on Dec. 4, and we now have a look at his much-anticipated new film.
And it looks ambitious. A modern-day adaptation of the Greek play Lysistrata, Chi-raq follows a young woman of that same name (played by Teyonah Parris of Mad Men and Dear White People) as she leads all of the women of her Chicago neighborhood in a sex strike, refusing to sleep with their gang-banging men until they give up their guns. The cast is an impressive list of accomplished performers—Samuel L. Jackson (who appears to be filling the role of the Greek chorus), Angela Bassett, Wesley Snipes, John Cusack, Dave Chappelle, and Jennifer Hudson—plus Nick Cannon, and there even appears to be a call-back to Lee’s magnum opus Do the Right Thing: Bassett’s character, sitting on a front stoop, is presented with a bouquet of flowers in the same manner that Ruby Dee was by Ossie Davis.
The trailer suggests that Lee will approach this daring conceit with both playfulness and heavy social commentary, in what looks like it could be a return to form following the bizarre, miscalculated Da Sweet Blood of Jesus and the uneven Red Hook Summer. It’ll be especially interesting to see how Lee wades into hot-button territory in a way he hasn’t onscreen in quite some time.
Chi-raq hasn’t even been released yet, and already it’s ruffling some feathers—namely those of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who apparently doesn’t approve of the film’s title or the potential for it to “hurt” the city’s image. Lee’s response, in a recent interview with Chicago magazine: “We started shooting Chi-Raq June 1. We finished July 9. During that time, 331 people got wounded, 65 murdered. New York City has three times the population of Chicago; Chicago has more homicides than New York City.” At the very least, he’ll give viewers and critics something to wrestle with. The film will see a limited theatrical release on Dec. 4, followed by a run on Amazon Instant Video.