The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

‘Chiraq’ controversy divides local filmmakers

Rapper Chief Keef helped to popularize the term “Chiraq” to describe Chicago violence. (Photo courtesy of Chief Keef)
Rapper Chief Keef helped to popularize the term “Chiraq” to describe Chicago violence. (Photo courtesy of Chief Keef)

Over the last few years, Chicago violence has served as an inspiration for a significant number of documentaries. The bloody homicides and gang shootings that happen almost daily on the city’s South Side have grabbed the attention of several filmmakers from around the world, including award-winning director Spike Lee with the recent announcement of his upcoming film “Chiraq.” Though film can serve as a powerful medium that can provide a voice for unheard victims, the risk of glamorizing the violence in Chicago has become more of an issue when dealing with the city’s portrayal in these films.

The controversial term “Chiraq” first gained relevancy in 2012 as a byproduct of Chicago’s drill music scene. A subtle comparison between the violent conditions of the city’s South and West Sides to the warzones in Iraq, rappers like Chief Keef and Katie Got Bandz embraced the term while politicians and community leaders actively resisted its use.

“I really hate that people still use that term,” Zhavia Gray, a junior cinema studies major said. “When I talk to people who aren’t from here, they tend to get a little startled. I don’t react anymore because I know it’s not all like that.”

Though knowing the term could create discomfort among viewers, Miami-based director Mandon Lovett remained steadfast in the value of accurate reporting when filming the 2014 documentary “The Field: Violence, Hip-Hop and Hope in Chicago.”

Premiering on, “The Field” captures “Chiraq” at its most explosive. The 40-minute documentary features the very rappers who popularized the term and their struggle to continue dodging bullets despite achieving mainstream success. “The Field” was one of the more popular documentaries racking up over 20 million views to date since its release last January. Lovett expressed some of the hardships of shooting the film in some of the more violent areas.

“As we filmed on the South Side, we began to understand the overwhelming sense of paranoia that these young men deal with constantly,” Lovett said. “Something as benign as a car driving by could end up being a death trap for these guys. Based on who you’re filming, violence could erupt at any time.”

“The Field” exposed new facets of Chicago violence that even local news outlets were hesitant to report on, Lovett said. Realizing that his documentary could be the only opportunity residents of these neighborhoods would have to be seen, the mission to bring attention to these issues became even greater.

“As an African American filmmaker creating documentaries on issues that affect African American communities, I approach these films with a different level of respect that other outlets might miss,” Lovett said. “It bothers me when they create these ‘fish-out-of-water’ scenarios.”

While many appreciated “The Field” for bringing attention to Chicago violence, some accused Lovett and World Star Hip-Hop of capitalizing off of a serious matter.

“If I didn’t show guns in my films, I wouldn’t be giving an accurate portrayal,” Lovett said. “It’s not about going into a community, getting a story, and leaving. I would hope the compassion I have for my subjects and the passion that goes into the creation of these films will leave something positive behind for these communities.”

While documentaries like “The Field” start a conversation by bringing awareness to Chicago violence, other documentaries like “The Interrupters” move the conversation forward by showing the efforts being done to combat the issue. “The Interrupters” follows three community leaders as they encourage those around them to stop the violence. Unlike the negative backlash “The Field” received, “The Interrupters” received generally positive feedback, even being acknowledged by film critics as the gold standard in films about Chicago violence.

“We wanted to use longform storytelling to provoke more emotional involvement,” Tim Horsburgh, Director of Communications and Distribution at Kartemquin Films, the local media company that produced “The Interrupters,” said.

“I think that speaks to the success that the film has had.”

Similar to “The Field,” however, creators of “The Interrupters” maintained the goal of highlighting issues in Chicago violence that mainstream media tends to ignore.

“News reports are very fast and immediate,” Horsburgh said. “They will report the number of shootings and deaths and then it’s on to the next segment. ‘The Interrupters’ was made with the hope that people would dig deeper into these issues.”

Finding a balance between accurate reporting and romanticizing the tragedies that happen in Chicago is something that filmmakers will continue to struggle with even established directors like Spike Lee are not immune.

“He’s obviously a great director and the film will be very compelling,” Horsburgh said. “I think it may be too soon to judge.”

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