CHICAGO (AP) — Flanked by parents holding photographs of the children they've lost to gun violence in Chicago, filmmaker Spike Lee on Thursday defended his choice to make a movie about the city with the Iraq-inspired title "Chiraq."
"This is not a joke. This is not a game,' the Oscar-nominated director said at a news conference about his planned film about violence in Chicago. "This is real life and death and that's the way we're going to approach this."
Lee has faced criticism from city officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who last month said he told the director that he was not happy about the working title of Chiraq, a combination of the names of Chicago and violence-torn Iraq, and pronounced (shy-RAK'). He said he thought it unfair to the residents of the Englewood neighborhood where the film takes place. One member of the city council has pushed for the city to deny Lee's company a multimillion dollar tax break for shooting the film unless he changes the title.
Lee did not take questions or say whether he will change the name of the film. But he did have harsh words for critics and any suggestion that the film would hurt tourism or business in the city, comparing them to those who predicted that his 1989 film 'Do The Right Thing' would trigger rioting across the country. That movie tells the story of simmering racial tension in a New York neighborhood that erupts in violence on a hot summer day.
"Those people ended up on the wrong side of history and the same thing is going to happen in Chicago," he said.
Ever since 2012 when the number of homicides in the city climbed above 500 in the city, Chicago's gun violence has received extensive national media attention. And while the numbers dropped to just above 400 last year, police statistics show there have been 121 homicides through May 3 — 23 more than were recorded during the same period last year.
"Nearly six a day are being shot in Chicago since January 1," said the Rev. Mchaael Pfleger, a prominent South Side Roman Catholic Priest who hosted the news conference at his church. "Last night there were 14 shot in the city, three of them were fatal."
Englewood is one of the most dangerous pockets of the city with 46 homicides last year in the police district which includes the neighborhood, according to police statistics.
Actor John Cusack, a native of Chicago, said he was proud to be in the film, telling the crowd that Lee told him that "the only reason to do this film is to save lives."
Cusack said that he loved Chicago, "all of Chicago, and I would never do anything to hurt it."
Pfleger , who has defended the use of "Chiraq' and criticized those who have voiced concerns that it might hurt tourism, on Thursday pointed to the ongoing violence as a reason why Lee should do the film.
"Violence is real in America," said Pfleger. "We must face the reality."
Parents of victims of gun violence voiced their support for both the title and the subject of the planned film, which over the weekend attracted several hundred people to a casting call for extras. Gloria Moore, who brought a photograph of her 22-year-old son shot to death in 1995 said "the least of our worries is the name."
"Because it is what it is; it's a war zone," said Sarah Turner, who brought a photograph of her 42-year-old son, Michael, who was shot and killed in 2013. "You can't feel comfortable all over and even in your own homes. Every time you turn on the news somebody's being shot. Babies are being shot right in their own homes."