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Spike Lee Wants a $3 Million Tax Break for Film That Calls Chicago 'Chiraq'

By Mark Konkol | April 15, 2015 5:04pm | Updated on April 16, 2015 8:37am
 Ald. Will Burns (from l.)  says if New York filmmaker Spike Lee wants $3 million film industry tax credit, the public should have a say in film's title,
Ald. Will Burns (from l.) says if New York filmmaker Spike Lee wants $3 million film industry tax credit, the public should have a say in film's title, "Chiraq." Mayor Emanuel also told Lee he doesn't like the title "Chiraq."
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Getty Images; DNAinfo; Jon Sall

ENGLEWOOD — If filmmaker Spike Lee plans to call his next movie “Chiraq” — an inner-city tale of black-on-black violence filmed in Englewood — he might want to think twice about asking taxpayers to kick in a multimillion dollar tax break, Ald. Will Burns said.

On Wednesday, the South Side alderman asked Lee’s representatives at a meeting with the Illinois Film Office and city department of special events about how much of a tax break the Amazon Studios production hopes to collect.

“They said $3 million,” Burns (4th) said. “I said, 'You recognize that by seeking public support that gives us a seat at the table.' They had no response to that.”

Before serving as alderman, Burns was an architect of the state’s film industry tax credit under former state Senate President Emil Jones. The tax break offers producers a credit of 30 percent of expenditures in an attempt spur growth, job opportunities and stimulate diversity in hiring.

“The tax credit is about jobs and bringing productions to the city, but look, if we give incentives to a corporation … we frequently have requirements,” Burns said. “Under the law there’s a diversity component, and they have to report on how many jobs they create. If they get this credit they need to be mindful of the public.”

Burns says the main objection to Lee’s project is the working title — “Chiraq,” a nickname comparing Chicago’s violent gang turf to an Iraqi war zone made popular by gangster rap stars, including Chief Keef.

“With the title, ‘Chiraq’ that’s branding whole parts of the city. 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,” Burns said.

“South Siders and West Siders already walk around with a massive chip on their shoulders. 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?”

The Rev. Michael Pfleger defends Lee as courageous.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters Wednesday that he met with Lee at City Hall and told the filmmaker he doesn’t like the title, “Chiraq.”

“He said the movie is about the neighborhood of Englewood. I was clear that I was not happy about the title,” the mayor said.

“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.”

But Emanuel didn’t say if he asked Lee — who is also remembered in these parts as “Mars Blackmon” from the iconic Air Jordan commercials — to change the film’s working title.

Burns said that he expects there to be conversation about changing the controversial “Chiraq” title, which he doesn’t consider a matter of free speech.

“It’s not a First Amendment issue, and I’m on the board of the ACLU by the way, because no one is saying he can’t make the movie. I’m just saying if you’re going to take the subsidy, the public should be given a seat at the table, and we need to have a conversation and a dialogue about it. It’s our money, and it’s our city.”

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