In a style that is typical for the New York filmmaker, Spike Lee has once again set tongues wagging about his latest film, “Chi-raq.” The title combines the names of the city of Chicago with Iraq. The moniker was popularized outside of the famed Windy City by rapper Chief Keef and refers to the city’s notoriously violent history and crime rate, likening the violence to the wars in Iraq.
The film seeks to place a spotlight on the dismal recurrence of gun violence in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood, and stars Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, Dave Chappelle, and Common. As politicians including the city’s Alderman and Mayor have rushed to chime in on their disapproval of the film’s title, there is no doubt that Lee’s choice has struck a chord. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who has been dogged by many high profile shootings during his tenure, met with Lee in April. Said the Mayor,
We had an honest, frank conversation… He said that while the movie is about the neighborhood of Englewood, I was clear that I was not happy about the title. I told him also that there are very good people that live in Englewood who are raising their family and there’s a lot of positive things that are happening in Englewood mainly driven by the people that make up Englewood.
Alderman William Burns had more criticism for the name stating,
These are communities where people are doing the right thing, people trying to have a decent neighborhood. Having a movie called ‘Chi-raq’ will make it much more difficult for folks like me and other aldermen to bring economic development to those neighborhoods. Who wants to live in a place that people call Chi-raq?
The Alderman went so far as to suggest that Lee should not receive a $3 million tax break for filming there.
“Part of the deal with the tax credit is that the film production company has to prove that the film will have a positive economic impact on the state of Illinois…And I think by calling a whole part of the city of Chicago ‘Chi-raq,’ that will make it hard to bring economic development to those communities, to bring jobs to those communities, and will therefore have a negative economic impact on the state of Illinois. And for that reason, they should deny it.”
An unbothered Lee responded with the brutal facts via Instagram.
To The Misinformed Critics Of CHI-RAQ During The Principle Photography June1st-July 9th There Were 331 People Shot And Wounded Plus 69 MURDERED. May God Bless Them,Their Families And Friends.
1,523 Likes, 84 Comments – Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on Instagram: “To The Misinformed Critics Of CHI-RAQ During The Principle Photography June1st-July 9th There Were…”
With all of the fervor around the name, one of the most interesting parts of the movie still speaks of Lee’s genius and creativity. The film is reportedly a musical comedy based upon Aristophanes’ comedy, Lysistrata. “Lysistrata” persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace ending the war. The power of…unity… indeed! It’s exciting to wonder how Lee will weave this classic comedy into the modern day ails of a staggeringly violent city, nicknamed Chi-raq.
We Were There: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Playwright, educator, opera singer, and Queen, Mfoniso Udofia has two plays running at New York Theatre Workshop. *pause* TWO PLAYS. In the SAME season!?!? *ends congratulatory gasp* Sojourners and Her Portmanteau are performed in repertory, as two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle. Admittedly, before researching each show, I didn’t know the definition of either word; and in the spirit of keeping it consistent with the honesty, I didn’t like either play. I loved them.
Minimalism seems to be the name of the game these days. I sat down to a completely black stage, sans a multimedia display lodged on the ceiling at a 45-degree angle. Clutching my all white program and bobbing my head to the ‘70s pop rock pre-show music, I prepared my heart for the story of Sojourners, well at least that was the plan. The stage begins to rotate and we meet Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour), Nigerian expatriates sojourning in Houston, Texas with the plan to start a family, earn their degrees, and go back to Nigeria until life happens.
Charming and handsome, Ukpong becomes defined by his leather jacket, shoulder work and shimmy which match the fascination and yearning for freedom that illuminates his eyes every time he talks of peace, protest, and Prince–all shaping his view of 1970s America, and consequently, the American Dream. But does leather compensate for grit? Is a movement or vibe really a panacea for disappointment, aimlessness, and a need to find yourself? Abasiama enters the play pregnant, purposed, and outfitted in pieces of Nigerian garb, grounded in duty showing a stark contrast to Ukpong who floats in desire. What’s lost in your household is found elsewhere, and this is when we start to see, and root for, Abasiama’s transformation from timid to tenacious.
Enter Moxie (Lakisha May), a colorful prostitute turned protector and friend. There is a mutual respect despite great differences between her and Abasiama, with their love for one another creating moments that make you believe in the beauty of humanity. Enter Disciple (Chinaza Uche), another warm and determined hearted immigrant who has come to the United States to study, rounding out the timely additions of love, support, and security when Abasiama needed them the most.
Through and through this is Abasiama’s story and she glows. Her kindness, her sisterhood, her strength, her worthiness, and the realization of her American Dream, guide her decisions—which is the catalyst behind the entire Ufot Cycle.
Her “portmanteau”, or red suitcase, makes a return as 30 years have passed. Abasiama now has two daughters, one raised in America and the other who has come from Nigeria to reconnect with her family.
This is a good moment to mention that each story is informed by the other, but can certainly stand alone on substance, content, and the amazing direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. The staging is exciting and deliberate, while minimal, putting the full focus on the tension and growth to be expected of a family reunited after a substantial amount of time and distance.
Chinasa Ogbuagu returns to the stage, this time as the American-born daughter, Adiagha Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Ukpong and Abasiama’s daughter), and Jenny Jules as the mother, Abasiama Ufot.
Seated on a couch in Adiagha’s small New York Apartment, no amount of preparation readies your mind and spirit to form the words to make up for 30 years of life, connection, and memories missed. We’re taken on a ride of resentment, hurt, love, and forgiveness, as the portmanteau is literally unpacked. We watch the teeter-tottering between offense and defense as one sister tries to assimilate into American culture, and the other attempts, albeit stubbornly, to fall in formation in honoring a family she shares blood with, but little time or tangible history.
It’s powerful to see a story of history and continuing a legacy despite lost time, faulty promises, and difficult choices explored with an all-woman cast as far too often the idea of legacy is framed in patriarchy. Jules admirably takes Abasiama through the fire to heal, to feel, and to fix her family. The narrative allows us to empathize and understand the struggle that comes with upholding family values versus cultivating a space to achieve personal dreams and happiness.
Her Portmanteau (and Sojourners) is written in a way that finds your soul, gently massaging it with humor, while leaving it with very real questions. I’ve never felt a greater need to binge read nine stories and simultaneously study the story of my own family tree. I left changed. I left wrapped in the strength of my mom and my mom’s- mom’s sacrifice. I left pensive and with seeds of future forgiveness planted. I left changed.
For capturing our hearts with wit and with truth. For putting Black women at the center of a poignant narrative. For unapologetically telling a story you haven’t seen told and telling it in the way you want it to be told.
We thank you Mfoniso. We thank you.
Have you seen the #duetplays? Sound off in the comments below![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
Last winter, we reported on Sojourners by playwright Mfoniso Udofia, a new play about a Nigerian family who has come to America with the goal of earning a college education, starting a family, and returning to Nigeria. But not without the twists and turns that come along with every plan that seems straightforward.
Thanks to New York Theatre Workshop, we get to relive this moment and continue the dialogue, decades later, with Her Portmanteau. Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family.
Ed Sylvanus Iskandar directs the two-part story in association with The Playwrights Realm, who premiered Sojourners last winter in a limited engagement world premiere production. Her Portmanteau also received the 2016 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award grant.
As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, we have an exclusive deal for our Broadway Black readers!
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price!
Yes. That’s two shows for one price! The discount code BWYBLACK will take 50% off tickets to ANY performance(s) if purchased by May 15th!
Go ahead and grab your tickets. We have ours!
Sojourners and Her Portmanteau plays at NYTW until June 4th.
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