EVANSTON — Not a fan of Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq"? You might want to keep that to yourself, at least in the filmmaker's presence.
Lee's musical drama about Chicago violence was praised by national critics, but panned locally. That criticism continued Wednesday night at Northwestern University in Evanston, where the filmmaker took questions following a screening of "Chi-Raq."
Before the question-and-answer session got started, Lee, who took the stage with two Chicago activists, used the platform to rip prominent Chicagoans who condemned his film. Lee went after Mayor Rahm Emanuel, rapper/activist Rhymefest, along with rappers King Louie and Chance The Rapper for their remarks about the film.
Lee gave insight into the conversation he had with Emanuel about the film’s name.
“To be fair, your mayor didn’t tell me to not do the movie. He wanted me to change the title,” Lee said. “He said the movie would hurt city’s economy. You had three major events while we filmed the movie here, the NFL Draft, Lollapalooza and The Grateful Dead had three shows at Soldier Field.”
Lee claimed that the day he met with the mayor was the same day the City Council voted on the $5 million settlement for the Laquan McDonald shooting.
Lee called Chance a "fraud" for ripping the film, saying it was a "punk a-- move." In December, Chance tweeted that "Chi-Raq" was "exploitive and problematic."
Lee mentioned the rapper's father Ken Bennett, who Emanuel named deputy chief of staff and director of the Mayor's Office of Public Engagement back in 2014, saying "he was on the mayor's payroll just like his father."
A Northwestern student defended Chance by mentioning the rapper's community service outreach.
Next, Lee mentioned a song King Louie released called "F--k Spike Lee," but jokingly insisted he was not responsible for shooting the South Side rapper in late December.
"I didn't do it!" he said.
Lee faced a barrage of questions from female audience members who accused him of sexism and exploitation of black women. The film was based on the Greek comedy "Lysistrata," in which women withhold sex to try to stop the Peloponnesian War. In Lee's version, the women of the South Side try the same to end the violence.
Lee answered by saying that actress Angela Bassett would not have participated in the film if she felt exploited. He also said Jennifer Hudson, who stars in the film, would not have participated if she felt it was unethical given how her entire family was murdered in Chicago.
“Why would Jennifer Hudson be in a film knowing her mother, brother and nephew were murdered and call it a mockery?,” Lee said.
Annette Holt, whose son Blair Holt was killed in 2007, told the group assembled not to condemn Lee for how he made the film.
"You have to keep an open mind that he [Lee] is an artist," Holt said. "We have to be able to listen to other people and respect their views."
One of the people that Lee brought out to speak about their experience was a local activist by the name of Brandon Jackson. The Auburn-Gresham native was very candid about being a gang member along with detailing his multiple stints in prison starting when he was 12.
“I was one of the youngest members of a gang faction called the Black Disciples,” Jackson said. “I started hanging with the wrong crowd.”
Jackson said that a chance meeting with St. Sabina priest/activist Michael Pfleger changed his life.
“I met Father Pfleger. He gave me a chance to do something with my life,” Jackson said. “I was a part of the problem. He gave me a chance to become a part of the solution.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, the Department of African American studies, and the Department of Classics.
"I'm no stranger to controversy," Lee said. "Things were said about each of my movies."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: