Spike Lee Says Rahm Emanuel Bullied Him over Film’s Portrayal of Chicago Gun Violence

Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media/AP
Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media/AP

In an interview with Chicago magazine, director Spike Lee described Chicago Mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as a “bully” over the mayor’s alleged attempts to censor an upcoming film about Chicago’s gun violence and black-on-black crime.

Lee began filming Chi-Raq in June and says he immediately met resistance from Emanuel, who left the Obama White House in 2010 to seek the mayoral office in President Obama’s hometown.

According to Lee, Emanuel went to great lengths to make production of the film difficult, particularly over the film’s title.

Chi-raq is a term that was originally given to the city by local rappers, who have compared Chicago’s violent crime to violence in Iraq.

After being “summoned” by the mayor to City Hall in April during pre-production, Lee tells Chicago magazine he and Emanuel “got off on the wrong foot,” as the mayor attempted to portray him as a villain for bringing some of the city’s biggest problems to light.

“I’m not the bad guy, but that’s how he was trying to portray it. Do I have the guns? Am I the one pulling the trigger? To be honest, he’s a bully,” said Lee.

“He’s not gonna bully me. My tactic with the mayor—any bully—is to come out swinging,” the director added. “I said, “Mayor, Your Honor, you’re gonna be on the wrong side of history.”

Lee said during the film’s production, from June 1 to July 9, 331 were wounded by gunfire, 65 of them were killed.

“New York City has three times the population of Chicago; Chicago has more homicides than New York City,” he said of Chicago, which boasts some of the most stringent gun control laws in the country.

“[Rahm’s] whole thing was, the title is going to hurt tourism, the title is going to hurt economic development. But what tourism is he talking about?” said Lee, citing the city’s bustling tourism, while also highlighting economic disparities in Chicago’s gang-ridden neighborhoods.

Spike Lee says Emanuel “doesn’t want [the film and its subject matter] to go worldwide because it’s on his watch,” and “it’s gonna give Chicago a bad image.”

“It is a fact that Chicago is the most segregated big city in America. That’s not Spike Lee saying that. That’s a fact,” Lee said.

He and the film reportedly were met with threats by city aldermen to block standard tax breaks if the title of the movie was not changed. One of the alderman allegedly withheld city permits for an event connected to the movie, but later backed off.

When he was asked by the mag if he felt Rahm Emanuel was behind efforts to have him shut down, he answered, “A lot of stuff he might not have done directly, but I see his fingerprints.”

Lee describes the mayor and others as “bullies” and “bootlickers,” but he said they did not inhibit his resolve to tell the story and that Chicago’s citizens were happy to have him tell it.

“Everywhere I went—North Side, West Side, South Side, black people, white people—I got nothing but love our entire time here. Love,” says Lee.

Chi-Raq is described as a “modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago.” It stars Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, and Samuel L. Jackson.

The film will debut in December.

To read Spike Lee’s Chicago magazine interview in full, click here.

As of Saturday, Oct. 24, 2,483 people have been shot, 373 of them killed, in Chicago in 2015.

Two people were killed and at least eight more were wounded in shootings across the city from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning.


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