Forget about the title; Lee’s film is an economy boost

Director Spike Lee

SPIKE LEE’S $15 to $18 million feature that’s set to film June 1 to July 10 in Englewood and other South Side locations continues to be under fire by the city for its “Chiraq” title.

Mayor Emanuel was offended by it and now “Chiraq” — implying that the South Side violence is akin to the war in Iraq — has inflamed a South Side alderman.

Ald. Will Burns (4th) introduced an ordinance in the City Council to deny Lee’s application for an Illinois filmmakers 30% tax credit of about $3 million if he keeps the “Chiraq” title. 

Ald. Burns spoke to the media about the negative effect the title would have on city tourism and the economy (both currently booming).  “Lee should be able to get city permits to film where he wishes to make the film,” Burns said.  “But we shouldn’t give him money as taxpayers to brand a part of the city as Iraq.  That doesn’t make sense.”

But Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) got it right. “It’s just a name,” he said, adding that perhaps Lee would consider changing the title later. 

“We should be promoting movie production in the city of Chicago,” he told the media.

“There’s a lot of jobs that come with this … I can respect my colleague’s opinion that the name of the movie doesn’t reflect well upon the city of Chicago … but it’s a major movie production with a world-renowned producer.”

While nobody likes to see his city dissed, noted entertainment attorney Jay B. Ross, “a filmmaker no longer has to submit his project to the mayor’s office for approval to be made here, as he did back in the Dark Ages realm of Richard J. Daley, to make sure it didn’t offend the city. That would be going backwards. Spike Lee is entitled to the tax credit the way it exists now”

Intellectual property attorney Jerry Glover further notes that denying a tax credit on what might happen after a film is finished “is not only highly speculative but also runs aground of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.”

As an example, he says, “Should ‘The Untouchables’ been denied state tax credit because it might bring back Chicago’s image as a gangster town?

“Luckily,” he adds, “a Chicago City council vote asking the sate to deny Spike Lee’s company a tax credit would only be symbolic and would not have the force of law.”

Ald. Burns shouldn’t worry about Lee’s movie, regardless of its title, having a negative impact on the economy. Actually, it will have the opposite effect, which is the prevailing reason why 37 states have incentives to attract film production.

During its six weeks of production, Lee’s $15 million budget, with a 2.7 multiplier, will produce more than $40 million in direct and indirect local economic activity.

And that’s not to mention the 400-500 labor force that will be working on the feature.

Sidebar: “Chiraq” is also the title of William Pierce’s dramatic TV series about gang activity set on the troubled South Side.  ReelChicago reported in March that the series was funded for eight episodes and was in preproduction.