Chicago's Finance Committee discussed Monday whether or not Spike Lee’s film company can receive a $3 million tax break for filming the upcoming movie “Chi-Raq” in Illinois, but the vote will not head to the full City Council on Wednesday as expected.
Ald. Will Burns, who supported blocking the tax break in May, called for a no-vote after the debate, which centered on the film’s controversial title. "Chi-Raq" is a slang term some use to compare America's third-largest city to a war zone because of its violent crime.
Ald. Burns proposed blocking the tax break in May saying that part of the deal is the film production company has to prove that the movie will have an overall positive impact on the state. Others, however, noted the positive economic benefits of filming the movie in Englewood, despite the controversial title.
Supporters of the tax break include State Sen. Jackie Collins, who says she was raised in Englewood. Sen. Collins testified at the Finance Committee meeting, citing the South Side's unemployment statistics and job opportunities that come with filming a movie in Englewood.
"Yes, the title 'Chi-Raq' might be shocking ... but communities such as Englewood need better statistics," Sen. Collins said.
Several people at the meeting, including Sen. Collins, said the real issue is not the movie title, but rather the issue of violence.
Fr. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church also testified at the meeting and said he was "insulted" that council members were not discussing unemployment and gun control instead.
"If the title was changed to 'Disneyland,' we'd still have the same image that's portrayed on the news media every day because it's the reality of what's going on in our community," Pfleger said.
Meanwhile, supporters of the film passed out fliers outside of City Hall showing photos of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Burns with the words "The shooting continues...."
Ald. Burns and Mayor Emanuel expressed their opposition to the film's title in the past, saying it was unfair to characterize Englewood as "Chi-Raq."
"I'm really concerned about the brand 'Chi-Raq' being applied to neighborhoods where people are trying to do the right thing," Burns said.
Burns believes that in this case the slated “Chi-Raq” title will make it difficult to bring economic development and jobs to the city in the future, and in turn take a negative toll.
The movie, which will be the first-ever Amazon Original Movie, was shot entirely in Chicago and features stars like Jennifer Hudson, John Cusack and Nick Cannon. It intends to “shed light on the serious, but often overlooked issue of violence in inner city Chicago," according to Amazon.
While Amazon has not said if the film had a set release date, The Hollywood Reporter reports it will debut in theaters for an Oscar-qualifying run in December.
The ultimate decision about the tax credit comes from the state, so it is unclear how much influence the debate in City Council would have, even if the vote had proceeded.