Amazon Studios announced that Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq,” a drama about inner-city gun violence in Chicago, will be its first original movie production with plans to debut the pic in theaters later this year.
“Chi-Raq” stars Teyonah Parris (“Dear White People,” “Mad Men”) alongside Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Teyonah Parris, D.B. Sweeney, Harry Lennix, Steve Harris, Angela Bassett with John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson.
Written by Lee and Kevin Willmott (“C.S.A.: Confederate States Of America”) and directed by Lee, “Chi-Raq” was shot on location in Chicago with principal photography wrapping last week. An Amazon rep said it does not have a confirmed release date yet for the movie.
The pic is the first official film pickup for Amazon Studios, which hired indie producer Ted Hope to lead its newly created film division in January. Amazon has said it ultimately expects to produce about 12 movies per year, with budgets in the $5 million-$25 million range, augmenting its lineup of original TV series.
“Spike Lee is one of the most distinct and visionary filmmakers of our time,” said Hope, Amazon Studios’ head of motion picture production. “It would be impossible to find a better filmmaker with whom to launch our studio.”
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“Chi-Raq” (working title) is meant to evoke Iraq — and the violence-torn streets of the Windy City’s Englewood black neighborhood.
“I’m honored to be part of the film that will launch Amazon Studios and to tell a story that is so important,” Lee said in a statement provided by Amazon. “Please don’t be fooled by the title of ‘Chi-Raq’; this new Spike Lee joint will be something very special. We have assembled a stellar cast.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other local pols have complained that the movie’s title inaccurately brands the city as a war zone. In an Instagram post last week, Lee fired back to “misinformed critics,” claiming that during the film’s June 1-July 9 principal photography “There Were 331 People Shot And Wounded Plus 69 MURDERED.”
Amazon’s distribution strategy with all its original films will be to release them in brief theatrical windows, followed by exclusive access for the company’s Prime free-shipping program members. Last month, the e-commerce giant named Bob Berney, former CEO of indie film distributor Picturehouse, has head of theatrical distribution and marketing.