Spike Lee is to Woke what Wiley is to Grime; The Godfather. What is “woke”? Well, it can be used as a noun or an adjective. To be woke is to be conscious or enlightened specifically about socio-political current affairs and history. At the end of School Daze  Spike Lee has Morpheus shouting “Wake-Up!” as a call to action not only for the other characters, but for the audience as well. Throughout his films and documentaries Lee’s desire to encourage viewers to be conscious of the effects of colonialism, racism, segregation and police brutality, to name a few of society’s ills, have been both artistic and effective. Chi-Raq is no different. It is a beautiful, powerful, heart breaking retelling of Lysistrata, the Greek satire by Aristophanes. In all his hyperconsciousness, one subject slipped past him in creating Chi-Raq- misogynoir.
Trudy (@TheTrudz on Twitter) developed the lexical definition of misogynoir for GradientLair.com, in it she explains that misogynoir describes how racism and anti-blackness alter the experience of misogyny for black women, specifically. Chi-Raq is the story of how Lysistrata, played by Teyonah Parris, encourages the women in relationships with members of rival gangs to go on a sex strike in order to bring about peace to the South Side of Chicago. The film is also inspired by Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian Nobel Peace Prize winner whose work with the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace brought Liberia’s second Civil War to an end. Gbowee’s story is chronicled in the Tribeca Film Festival winning Pray The Devil Back To Hell . You can also watch Watch Errol Morris’ insightful piece for The New York Times.
As well as an indictment of the gun control problem in Chicago, Chi-Raq at its core is a feminist statement. It is about the power women, but in this case black women specifically, have to end violence using non-violent means. Yet, of the 2 writers and 4 producers there are no women writers or producers on this film. To be a feminist you do not need to be a woman, but feminism is about the equal rights of women and the fact that no women hold positions of storytelling power in this film helps me understand how the triggering language "you little black bitch" etc made it to film.
The most talented, capable actresses perform with commanding power and presence in this film. Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson are faultless in their portrayals of mothers negatively affected by the gang violence ripping their city apart. And it is because of the ingenious casting by Kim Coleman (a black woman) that I believe Spike Lee’s misogynoir is accidental.
In the first act, Lysistrata is walking through her neighbourhood while Dolmedes [Samuel L Jackson] narrates. Dolmedes describes Teyonah Parris’ character as a “gorgeous Nubian sister. Baby so fine she made George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson wanna kiss her.” Words mean things and what i understood from Dolmedes' monologue is Lysistrata is so sexually desirable that both George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson, racist white men who murdered African American teenage boys, would ignore their racism once they lay eyes on her because of an overriding lust towards this woman. In the words of R.S – overdoing it. On EverydayFeminism.com Keseina Boom lists 4 Tired Tropes That Perfectly Identify What Misogynoir Is Boom explains that The Hypersexual Jezebel trope originates from the era of slavery. In order for white men to justify their rape of enslaved Black women, they spread the idea that Black women were sexually insatiable. In this way, any instances of sexual assault were actually just “giving them what they wanted.” Chi-Raq writers Kevin Wilmott and Spike Lee unconsciously feed into and perpetuate this dangerous stereotype about black women and our sexuality. The second act sees Lysistrata called a “nappy headed hoe” by a confederate flag boxer short wearing General and the men of the film chant “women, you need us! Do your duty and give up that booty!” It is in the third act of the film that we truly see the mastery of Wilmott and Lee’s craft fully unfold. I did not know I was watching a mystery until the reveal. We didn’t have to take the constant detours down Misogynoir Boulevard to get there. These examples of problematic language are superfluous and do nothing to add to what is an important, poignant and necessary story.
Spike Lee’s portrayal of black womanhood in this movie range from the authoritative to the broken. It is commendable especially because along with others I have long preached that black women are not a monolith. Alas it is not enough. If Quentin Tarantino is ill equipped to discuss black masculinity, Spike Lee and Kevin Wilmott are equally ill equipped discuss black feminism and sexuality; the exclusion of black women from the creative process is evidence. I am grateful to have seen black women presented in this film. But it is not enough to feature us in your conversation- let black women speak and allow us the freedom to join in the discourse especially when it pertains to us. It is possible to represent black women while also unwittingly denigrating us. With Chi-Raq we are presented with what Wilmott and Lee think black women would say while not giving us an opportunity to express the experiences of what it is like to be a black woman. Yes it is just a film but this film especially is an opportunity for activism and intersectionality. In Spike Lee’s perpetual state of wokeness somehow he missed an opportunity to include black women in the writing and producing of Chi-Raq thus missed an opportunity to authenticate his portrayal of black womanhood.
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