Spike Lee and John Cusack Defend Upcoming Film, 'Chiraq'

PHOTO: Spike Lee speaks about his upcoming film, “Chiraq,” in Chicago, May 14, 2015.PlayWLS
WATCH Director Spike Lee Defends Upcoming Film 'Chiraq'

Spike Lee's upcoming project, "Chiraq," a film about gun violence in Chicago whose title merges the city's name with "Iraq," has been criticized by local politicians for allegedly likening the city to a war zone.

However, the director isn't backing down, and held a news conference at a local church today to discuss the controversy.

"A lot of things have been said about this film ... [by] people who know nothing about the film. A lot of people have opinions about the so-called title of the film. Again, [they] know nothing about the film," he said, adding that those who criticize it will end up looking "stupid."

"I love Chicago," he said. "Wait till the movie comes out. You don’t like it, [criticize it], but see it first. Pray for us. Let’s pray for all Chicago."

Last month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told The Chicago Tribune that he was unhappy with the title, and had expressed that to Lee.

"He did say the movie would take on the subject of black-on-black violence, specifically African-American male-to-African-American male violence, and how it's affecting the community and what goes on," Emanuel said. "I said then, and I believe, that's an important conversation to have. Given you're a great artist, while I don't support the title and I don't like the working title, the topic is a conversation that has been ignored for too long and needs to be discussed."

That sentiment was echoed by others who spoke in today's press conference, including the church's pastor, the Rev. Michael L. Pfleger, and two parents who have lost children to gun violence. Each of them spoke about how the neighborhood of Englewood, where film is set, has been affected by the murders.

"I realize the title 'Chiraq' could be perceived as a glorification of violence," noted Pfleger, "but we must face the reality of what's going on across America. We cannot hide from it. We cannot become immune to it. We cannot ignore it. We cannot deny it: Violence is real in America."

Actor John Cusack, who grew up outside Chicago, also spoke, and chalked up any negative talk to "manufactured political controversy." The reason he agreed to participate, he said, was because Lee told him the aim was to help save lives.

"Art must be courageous and everyone who wants a more peaceful America will understand where the heart of this film is. And speaking personally, there really is no controversy around this film," he said. "Put it this way: I am 100 percent sure that the great city of Chicago can survive a a film of conscience, just like it did 'Transformers.'"

"Chiraq" is still in pre-production. Cusack, along with other Chicago natives Jeremy Piven, Common, Kanye West and Jennifer Hudson, are all attached to the project, according to IMDB.