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Berlin: Spike Lee Sounds Off on Hollywood’s Diversity Problem, Gun Violence

BERLIN — Spike Lee and John Cusack offered their take on several issues at a press conference at the Berlin Film Festival ahead of the screening of “Chi-Raq,” a bold and vibrant movie dealing with gun violence in America.

A modern-day adaptation of Aristophanes’s ancient Greek play “Lysistrata,” the Amazon-backed movie centers on a group of women who organize against the ongoing violence in Chicago’s South Side.

The presser, which was also attended by Nick Cannon, drew several rounds of applause and laughter from the audiences. “You must look at what’s happening in America … with Donald Trump running for president … and think ‘What the f— is going on?’ ” quipped Lee.

Asked about the title of the film, which reportedly made Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unhappy, Lee said the term was coined by Chicago rappers to call out the extreme violence of some neighborhoods in the city.

Lee said comparing Chicago to a “war zone” is appropriate. “During the first month of this year, 53 people were shot and killed in Chicago. … Ninety-nine Americans die every day due to the gun violence — two-thirds is suicide,” Lee pointed out.

Speaking of Hollywood’s diversity problem, Lee said: “The Academy Awards are not the problem; the problem is the gatekeepers at the exec levels, studios, networks and cable TV who decide what movies we’re going to make and not make. And the majority of these men are white males — there’s no diversity there, and that’s reflected in the movies that get voted on at the Academy Awards.”

Lee said the diversity crisis needs to be confronted. “The Academy would not have made these changes if people had kept quiet,” he said.

Lee also addressed the criticism that erupted online when the movie’s trailer debuted in November and was slammed by some people for trivializing Chicago’s gun violence. The filmmaker said the movie was a satire rather than a comedy. “One of my favorite movies treats serious topics through satire,” said Lee, citing Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove.”

Coming out in the middle of the U.S. presidential race, the movie has been getting strong reviews from critics who noted its timeliness and relevancy in addressing the issue of gun violence head-on.

When asked who he was going to vote for, Cusack said he would not vote for anyone who’ll “legitimize murder to solve economic problems.”

“It depends if Bernie Sanders gets outspent by Hillary Clinton … and falls back into the DNC. If it is any Democrat against Donald Trump, I’ll have to vote for a Democrat,” said Cusack.

Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate debuted the movie on Dec. 4, followed by a release on Amazon Instant Video.

Lee previously discussed the difficulty he and co-writer Kevin Willmott faced when they went to the Sundance Film Festival with the script to try and raise financing. He said Amazon Studios was the only company that said yes to the project.

Cusack praised streaming services like Amazon for giving “a longer life to movies.” “Nowadays you can’t kill a film. People can see movies as long as they want on Amazon.”

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