The Divided City Initiative in St. Louis: Chi-Raq and Milwaukee 53206 Q&As

The Mean Streets programming that was part of the Divided City Initiative also included films that examined the issues of segregation and how communities deal with mass incarceration and gun violence.  A high point of the program was the screening of Chi-Raq (dir. Spike Lee, 2015) with screenwriter Kevin Willmott and facilitator Novotny Lawrence, Associate Professor of Radio, Television, and Digital Media, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

Willmott’s script is a modern-day adaptation of the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, set in Chicago.  During the Q&A Willmott spoke about the 15-year path the script took to the screen, how he incorporated the real community group Mothers of the Hood into the screenplay, and how he approached the topic of gun violence using satire.

“Satire gives you a vehicle to really address things, talk about things–almost directly–and the only way I can be funny is I can be serious…They’re not jokes but we make fun of the absurdity of certain things, and god knows the situation in almost every major American city with gun violence is just absurd, it’s just insane. So, a way to really give the audience, and really the citizens of the country a means to take ownership of it is to really kind of expose its absurdity.” —  Kevin Willmott


Milwaukee 53206, directed by Keith McQuirter, explores how mass incarceration impacts African-American communities by looking at the 53206 zip code in Milwaukee where 62 percent of adult men have spent time in prison. During the Q&A McQuirter spoke about how he approached telling the story in a way that would encourage empathy with the community while examining the causes and conditions.  The discussion was facilitated by Washington U. professor of History Margaret Garb.

“I wanted to have audiences to be able to relate to these people on the screen who are truthfully telling their story, opening themselves up to allowing camera into their lives. I figured–and it’s not always the case–that most people can relate to families and so I think that was a way to usher in people who aren’t familiar with incarceration. ” — Keith McQuirter.


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Reference and Outreach Supervisor in Special Collections.