Spike Lee’s public persona — as an activist, as a provocateur, as a mouthpiece against injustice, and as New York’s No. 1 Knicks fan — sometimes threatens to overshadow his tremendous accomplishments as a filmmaker. Remarkably, Lee — who was awarded an honorary Oscar in November for his considerable career achievements — has never been nominated for a Best Director Academy Award, nor has ever had a Best Picture contender (he was nominated for Best Screenplay for Do the Right Thing, and for Best Documentary for 4 Little Girls). Lee has garnered his best reviews in years for his film, Chi-Raq (on Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 26), a drama that remixes Aristophanes’s Lysistrata with modern-day gang warfare in Chicago.
Spike Lee is refusing to attend this year’s Oscars due to the fact that for the second year in a row, all of the acting nominees are white. The filmmaker, who was awarded an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in November, said that while he appreciated that recognition, he and his wife “cannot support” this year’s Academy Awards. “Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy,” Lee wrote in an Instagram post on Monday morning.
Provocatively using Aristophanes’ ever-timely 2,426-year-old play Lysistrata as a way to address the ongoing plague of shootings on the South Side of Chicago, Spike Lee serves up an odd and teeming gumbo of political activism, broad melodrama, verse dialogue, rap music, history lessons, comedic caricature, moral guidance and steamy sex (later withheld) in Chi-Raq. This is the first feature film out of the gate for the nascent Amazon Studios, which seems at least initially dedicated to working with interesting directors on projects the studios may not be inclined to take on. The least you can say about Chi-Raq, a title at which Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has taken offense, and too bad for him, is that it vaults Lee back into a position of cultural/political relevance similar to that he held a generation ago, just as it sees him making some bold creative moves, especially with the dialogue, that are pretty fresh. Related: Spike Lee Reveals Why He Took His Movie to Amazon Lysistrata, of course, hinges on one of dramatic literature’s imperishable premises, in which the women of Athens undertake a sex strike as a way to persuade their men to end the Peloponnesian War.
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It’s based on the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata, but the above first look at Spike Lee’s upcoming film Chi-Raq might remind you more a more contemporary classic: Lee’s 1989 drama, Do the Right Thing. The film, the first original release by Amazon Studios, takes the Brooklyn-born filmmaker to Chicago, where he tackles gang violence and political unrest with a cast that includes Nick Cannon, Angela Bassett, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack.