Chiraq Spike Lee

Spike Lee to Remake Classic Feminist Cult Play ‘Lysistrata’

An intriguing story hit the headlines recently surrounding an ancient Greek comedic play about Lysistrata, a feminist cult figure who persuaded the women of Athens to come together and withhold sex as a tactic to stop war.

It’s not the story itself that has been the focus of the controversy however, but the title of the cinematic remake being directed by Spike Lee – Chi-Raq. Spike Lee has taken the concept of the play and adapted it to a modern day setting for his new film ‘Chi-Raq’ – which will tackle the subject of gun violence that has plagued Chicago for sometime. His remake is apparently going to be a satire of the original Greek comedy centering on a woman’s quest to end gang warfare in Chicago. The film has already cast Jennifer Hudson, Nick Cannon, Jeremy Piven and Samuel Jackson in leading roles, and has supposedly some creative involvement from Kanye West. The film is produced by Amazon studios a new venture which will fund, release and distribute films in cinemas and then release them directly onto Amazon Prime.

Reaction to Chi-raq has been mixed in Chicago with the Mayor Rahm Emanuel, taking up issue with the title of the film. Spike Lee has been clear that he is approaching the subject matter with a complete sensitivity about the effect on the local community of the plague of gun violence not only in Chicago but across the U.S. For this director of the classic ‘Do The Right Thing’, it may be that he is the only person who can successfully revisit a similar plotline from his movie of over 20 years ago – simply because things haven’t changed.

While the film remains shrouded in secrecy, it’s an intriguing plotline considering where we may be heading with regards to feminist discourse about sexual freedom and the lack of diverse voices in feminism today.  If increased hyper-sexualised images of women are meant to be empowering us further, why are the increasing cases of rape, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and lack of progression in the cause for gender equality not changing the landscape – maybe we do need a different tactic altogether?

Chiraq poster Spike Lee

Not all feminists have come out in favour of Lysistrata’s position and some have even posited that her character was actually misogynistic.  So could the basis of Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata, really be the solution to modern day gang warfare? The original play, set in Ancient Athens, was about one women who unified all the women of Athens to withhold sex to bring the Peloponnesian War to an end. Is there a cause for common sisterhood through unifying sexual capital?

Modern feminists have argued on both sides – some women have ‘slut-shamed’ women or called out women who use erotic capital as a currency to advance their fight for gender equality. A recent article in the Huffington Post referred to this having a greater impact on women of colour – “women of color face even greater risks because many white people are influenced by the racist belief that women of color are inherently sexually wild and therefore deserve to be shamed.” Nicki Minaj has spoken out about the issue of hyper-sexualized stereotypes of women of colour a number of times and attempted to counter those stereotypes in her own music and videos like ‘Anaconda’ – but is it actually working to that effect or compounding it?

The tactic of a ‘sex strike’ may not have been explored in depth within this kind of modern urban setting as an alternate form of sexual empowerment. We have yet to see how Spike Lee tackles the subject of female sexual empowerment vs male violence set on the streets of Chicago  – and ask is it really going to open the kind of conversations needed today. In the meantime we’re still intrigued and getting ready for the battleground to open up.