It's been rumored for a while, but we now have confirmation that Spike Lee's upcoming Chi-Raq will be Amazon Studios' first original movie. Lee directed the movie and co-wrote it with Kevin Willmott. Kanye West, Jeremy Piven, and Common were all circling the film back in April, but they're nowhere to be found in the movie's current cast. Teyonah Parris — best known for her role as Dawn Chambers on Mad Men — is leading a cast filled out by Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson. According to Amazon, Chi-Raq is going to "shed light on the serious, but often overlooked issue of violence in inner city Chicago." The title is also a nickname typically used to describe the city's beleaguered South Side neighborhoods.
Amazon's feature film initiative was announced in January. After its successful entry into the television market with shows like Transparent and Catastrophe, the company announced its plans to make movies for theatrical release. Once these movies finish their theatrical runs, Amazon Prime members will enjoy exclusive early distribution. The company wants to release up to a dozen movies every year as part of this initiative. It might be hard to hit that target this year given that it's already July, but Amazon is getting its feet wet with Chi-Raq.
It wouldn't be a Spike Lee joint without some sort of controversy
Of course, it wouldn't be a contemporary Spike Lee joint without some form of controversy. Chi-Raq has been criticized by Chicago leaders for its title, which they allege demonizes the neighborhoods Lee will be focusing on in the movie. Given that the film is attempting to "shed light" on the violence that's plagued some areas of Chicago, the title may take on a different meaning when it's paired with the finished product. Chi-Raq finished shooting last week, and Amazon and Lee are hoping it'll be ready for theatrical release in December, a release window that would render it eligible for awards consideration next year.