A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spike Lee's Chi-Raq is based on a centuries-old play by Aristophanes (the title is a reference to the high death rates in both Chicago and Iraq); it's written in hip-hop rhyme and has a few musical/dance numbers. The main character encourages women everywhere to withhold sex from their men until the men agree to stop fighting, so sex is a big issue -- it's discussed frequently, and there are some pretty graphic sex scenes, with naked bottoms, breasts, thrusting, and suggested oral sex. Language is also very strong, with frequent uses of "f--k," the "N" word, "p---y," and more. Violence includes lots of shooting and gun use, with characters dying and some blood shown. Characters also smoke pot and take combinations of various drugs; background drinking and smoking are shown. The message, a plea for tolerance and compassion, is well intentioned, but the content is too mature for anyone but adults.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In Chicago -- nicknamed "Chi-Raq" because the city's level of violence and murder is comparable to Iraq -- two rival gangs terrorize the citizens. The leader of the Spartans is also called "Chi-Raq" (Nick Cannon), while the head of the Trojans is "Cyclops" (Wesley Snipes). After a 12-year-old girl is killed by a stray bullet, and with help from the well-read Miss Helen (Angela Bassett), Chi-Raq's girlfriend, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), decides to hold a sex strike: No more sex until peace is declared. Meanwhile, the mother (Jennifer Hudson) of the little girl and a local priest (John Cusack) won't stop until they find the man responsible for the killing.
Is it any good?
Director Spike Lee based his movie on the 411 B.C. play Lysistrata by Aristophanes; written in hip-hop rhyme, it's a reckless, ambitious, overlong mess, but its message is furiously passionate. With Samuel L. Jackson serving as a funny, flamboyant "Greek Chorus," the movie definitely has a few laughs (Snipes brings a loony quality to his character, and the always-hilarious Dave Chappelle is on hand for one scene), as well as lively musical and dance numbers. Moreover, the presence of Snipes and Bassett help recall Lee's earlier work rather than his more recent misfires.
With all that's going on, the characters sometimes get lost, but Lee and co-writer Kevin Willmott remain clear on what they want to say. Cusack, in his role as a priest in a black church, gets the bulk of the movie's sermoning; he talks about the evils of guns and the role of prisons. Yet CHI-RAQ isn't an angry film; it's ultimately a call for compassion and tolerance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Chi-Raq's violence and its message of peace, tolerance, and compassion. Is that juxtaposition jarring? Why do the characters fight, and why is it so hard to stop? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
How is sex used as a means to combat the violence? What are the possible ramifications of the plan? What value is placed on sex in the movie?
Does the movie glamorize drugs? What would the real-life consequences be?
Is Lysistrata a role model? Why, or why not?
How did you like watching a movie written in rhyme? Did it take time to get used to it? Did it sound good or bad?
- In theaters: December 4, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: January 26, 2016
- Cast: Nick Cannon, Angela Bassett, Teyonah Parris
- Director: Spike Lee
- Studios: Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexual content including dialogue, nudity, language, some violence and drug use
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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