We glimpse a faith community and how it is addressing rampant gun violence in Spike Lee’s 2015 film, Chi-Raq [pronounced: shy-RACK]. Chi-Raq is satire, not documentary, and has its critics and controversies. But the film does offer a powerful view of what the real St. Sabina Catholic Church, on Chicago’s Southside, and many congregations like it across the country face every day.
St. Sabina, Father Michael Pfleger, & Chi-Raq the Movie
At the center of Chi-Raq (the movie) is funeral service for an 11-year-old shooting victim. Fictional pastor Michael Corridan, based on Chicago’s Father Michael Pfleger, begins his remarks with reference to “an important life in the community.” Displaying a gun he had stored within the pulpit, Corridan says:
This gun was purchased by Tiny Tony from Chicago at an Indiana gun show using a fake Indiana ID and by-passing all of our strict gun laws….
Chicago gangs buy the guns for their work in the underground economy. The underground economy exists because banks and lending institutions rarely lend money to poor people….
This gun is the principle player in a reality TV show that plays every night at 5 and 10 p.m….
Patti is gone because our politicians are in the pocket of the National Rifle Association.
Patti is gone because of an economy that has abandoned the poor….We go from third-rate schools to first-class high-tech prisons. Mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow….
Our Patti is gone because our gangs…are more concerned with ego than human life….
…It doesn’t look good….
— from Father Mike Corridan’s sermon, in Chi-Raq, written by Lee and Kevin Willmott
The Chicago-born actor John Cusack, who plays Corridan, spoke about his role and its relationship to the real life St. Sabina, on Chicago’s Southside, and the real life Father Michael Pfleger.
It is a state of emergency. When we were shooting that scene there weren’t a bunch of extras out in St. Sabina. That was the congregation of the church, and the faces of the women there are the faces of women who have lost their sons and daughters. And at the end when they’re holding up their pictures with Jennifer Hudson, those aren’t extras — That was a live room. Those people were not acting.
Full short interview here —
More on St. Sabina —
and their annual march against violence —
See also Father Pleger Fights and the official Chi-Raq the Movie site.
Fact-Checking Corridan’s Sermon and “Chi-Raq”
Chicago Magazine fact-checked the movie sermon. The only solidly “false” determination regards a claim about suburbs, guns, and the “thug life.”
Claim “[The children of the wealthy] admire the thug life. But they do so from the safety of suburban Chicago. Kenilworth, Wilmette, Highland Park. No, no, no, no, no, this gun wouldn’t be caught dead there.”
TRUE? Nope. Here’s a gun…
— Fact-Checking (Chicago Magazine)
The clarification doesn’t alter the truth of the basic sentiment: plenty of young people, living in relatively safe and stable communities, adulate the “thug life” without having the faintest clue what it’s like to live in a community plagued by regular gun violence.
Fact-checker Matt Pollock found errors in some of the sermon’s demographic data. He notes, however, that some of the statistics DO match those of nearby Englewood — where the movie is ostensibly set — although the real St. Sabina is in Auburn Gresham, to the south and west. The unemployment rate near St. Sabina is actually higher (28%) than noted in the sermon (21%), as is the per capita income ($15,528), compared with the stated $12,000 (which matches Englewood’s). Pollock suggests that Lee’s information may have come from this Ebony article. Read the short, informative Chicago Magazine piece for more details. See also City of Chicago data.
More Chi-Raq Background
FOUR DEALERS AT THE HEART OF SO MUCH CRIME
On the movie’s website, Spike Lee also offers some basic statistics worth noting: For example, 60% of guns recovered from crime scenes in Chicago came from other states, and a substantial proportion of guns with short “time to crime” histories come from just four “bad apple” dealers. This is widely substantiated; see, e.g., Brady Campaign.
THE NAME “CHI-RAQ”
“Homicides in Chicago, Illinois have surpassed the death toll of American special forces in Iraq,” says a news reporter, at the start of the movie.
During the nine-year period 2003-2012, Chicago lost 4,265 citizens to gun violence. During the same time period, the U.S. lost a similar number of soldiers in Iraq. (Sources: Military Times, ABC7-Chicago). Reported during a spate of murders in the city, this equivalence, led to the nickname “Chi-Raq,” sometimes “Chiraq, Drillinois.” See What’s in a nickname? for a fascinating look at Chi-towns many monikers.
SOME THINGS REMAIN THE SAME
Finally, just FYI: The movie is an adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, from 411 BCE.