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9 Ways Spike Lee's Chi-Raq film copies a famous Greek play

Shanee Edwards is a screenwriter who earned her master's degree at UCLA Film School. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her TV pilot, Ada and the Machine, is cur...

Spike Lee's powerful new film cleverly addresses the high murder rate in Chicago by borrowing an ancient story

Now that the homicide rate in Chicago has surpassed the death toll of American special forces in Iraq, movie director Spike Lee has decided to tell this story using the help of the Greek play Lysistrata. In the play, the women of ancient Greece go on a sex strike until their warring men stop killing each other. Here are nine ways Chi-Raq was inspired by the satirical masterpiece.

Spike Lee's powerful new film cleverly addresses the high murder rate in Chicago by borrowing an ancient story
Image: Roadside Attractions

1. Greek chorus

Plays in ancient Greece used a device called the chorus to narrate the story. The chorus was usually made up of a group of men reciting dialogue as a way to give information about the story and characters to the audience. In Chi-Raq, Samuel L. Jackson serves as the chorus by playing a character named Dolmedes, who talks directly to the audience.

2. Rhymed verse as the dialogue

Though the ancient Greeks wrote their plays in rhymed couplets, today we often see rhymed verses in rap music. Dolmedes explains the stylized dialogue in the film by saying, "In da year 411 BC, before baby Jesus y'all, da Greek Aristophanes penned a play satirizing his day. And in the style of his time, 'Stophanes made dat shit rhyme."

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Spike Lee's powerful new film cleverly addresses the high murder rate in Chicago by borrowing an ancient story
Image: Roadside Attractions

3. Gun violence

In Lysistrata, the death rate of Greek men fighting the Peloponnesian War is on the rise. Of course, the ancient Greeks didn't have guns, but they were experts at battling each other with swords and other weapons. In Chi-Raq, the "war" is between the two south side Chicago gangs, called Spartans and Trojans, the names of two ancient Greek armies.

4. Teyonah Parris is Lysistrata

Lysistrata is the name of the lead character in both the play and Spike Lee's movie. You may recognize Teyonah Parris from Mad Men, where she played Don Draper's secretary, Dawn.

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Spike Lee's powerful new film cleverly addresses the high murder rate in Chicago by borrowing an ancient story
Image: Roadside Attractions

5. Wesley Snipes is Cyclops

While Cyclops isn't a character from the play Lysistrata, the one-eyed creature is a character from Greek mythology. Wesley Snipes plays a gang member called Cyclops because he's had one of his eyes shot out.

6. Women take an oath

The women in Lysistrata rally each other and take an oath of celibacy, just as the women in Chi-Raq do. They vow to "deny all rights of access or entrance" to their husbands and lovers, chanting, "No peace, no p****!"

Spike Lee's powerful new film cleverly addresses the high murder rate in Chicago by borrowing an ancient story
Image: Roadside Attractions

7. The bed as a major set piece

Both the play and the movie have an entire scene with a giant bed, where a female character tortures her man by promising sex but keeps stalling the act so the man will grow desperate, agreeing to stop the war.

8. The Spartan herald with the giant erection

In the play Lysistrata, both the Spartan herald and the magistrate appear onstage with giant erections under their tunics. In Chi-Raq, Lysistrata pretends she's going to seduce General King Kong (David Patrick Kelly), who mounts a Civil War-era cannon that protrudes from between his legs, symbolizing his erection.

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9. Filming in a war zone

Though we don't call gang violence war, the south side of Chicago is incredibly dangerous. Despite this, Spike Lee chose to shoot the film in Englewood because it's one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods, giving the movie a real sense of peril, just as the Peloponnesian War created for the ancient Greeks.

Chi-Raq opens on Dec. 4.

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