Millionaire director Spike Lee’s request for $3 million in subsidies from Chicago taxpayers to film a movie about the city’s high rates of black-on-black violence is receiving push back from local politicians, not because of the money, but because of concerns that the film will portray the Windy City in a negative light.
Lee, who is partnering with Amazon Studios to film the movie, entitled “Chiraq,” met with Chicago Alderman Will Burns at the Illinois Film Office on Wednesday.
“They said $3 million,” Burns told DNA Info of Lee’s subsidy request. Burns was not so much shocked by the hefty ask. Rather, he said that if the city forked over that kind of money it will expect to have a say in how the project unfolds.
Burns said he told Lee, “you recognize that by seeking public support that gives us a seat at the table.”
“They had no response to that,” said Burns.
According to DNA Info, Burns is a supporter of Illinois’ film industry tax credits, which typically provide a 30 percent credit on goods and services purchased for movie projects. As with many states’ film subsidy programs, the goal is to draw attention to the state and to spur economic growth while creating jobs.
While film subsidies have many supporters, they have received increased criticism for a number of reasons. The targeted subsidies are seen as favoring one industry over others. Their economic impact is also up for debate. And while small filmmakers are eligible for subsidies, wealthy out-of-state directors, producers and studios benefit the most from the program.
The 58-year-old Lee hails from Brooklyn. Amazon Studios is headquartered in Santa Monica, Cal.
Questions over the economic value of subsidies aside, Burns and other Chicago politicians, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, worry that Lee’s movie will have a negative effect on the city’s image.
Made popular by Chicago rapper Chief Keef, the term “Chiraq” is a portmanteau of Chicago and war-torn Iraq meant to reference the city’s high violent crime rate.
Lee says that the film will specifically draw attention to the issue of black-on-black violence. While details of the project have not been nailed down, actors Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Piven will reportedly star in the film. Chicago rappers Kanye West and Common will also take part.
“With the title, ‘Chiraq’ that’s branding whole parts of the city,” Burns said. “For people who live on the South and West Sides who pay their taxes, are active in block clubs and work to make their neighborhoods better, it’s a slap in the face.”
“There’s a sense the media only comes to cover dead bodies and not the positive things that happen every day. And why is this guy from New York coming to do a movie about Chicago?”
Emanuel said he expressed similar concerns during a face-to-face meeting with Lee on Wednesday.
“I was clear that I was not happy about the title,” Emanuel said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I told him also that there are very good people who live in Englewood who are raising their family. There’s a lot of positive things happening in Englewood mainly driven by the people that make up Englewood.”
While Emanuel did not say whether he asked Lee to change the movie’s title, city Alderman Anthony Beale said he did that last week.
“It’s very offensive and, hopefully, he rethinks his position on that issue,” Beale said last week, according to the Sun-Times. “He definitely needs to change the name. That’s an insult to the city of Chicago. I don’t care what he changes it to, but not that one.”
Lee’s subsidy request is more than twice the amount he raised last year for his most recent film, “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.” The twice Oscar-nominated director raised over $1.4 million on the crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter to fund the thriller, which was released straight to video last month and has received mixed reviews.