Seductive Movements in Lysistrata and Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq: Activism, Adaptation, and Immersive Theatre in Film

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This article investigates how Spike Lee’s 2015 Lysistrata adaptation, Chi-Raq , reaches beyond the screen—‘in excess’ of its medium—by using the techniques of immersive theatre to revive Aristophanes’ classical plot as well as his urgent call to citizenly collective action (McGowan, Todd. Spike Lee . Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2014). Lee’s seductive activist fairytale in rhyming verse imagines a worldwide sex strike led by Chicago’s women of colour. Like its Classical predecessor, the film both critiques and reinforces the spectacular objectification of female bodies; that tension is always in play, even as it successfully brings about a peace treaty between two warring Englewood gangs. To explore this and other socio-political tensions, Lee’s film employs many of the ‘physical, sensual and participatory’ elements that Josephine Machon understands as central to immersive performance (Machon, Josephine. Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance . London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. xv). Crucial to this immersive adaptation is Lee’s transgressive coordination of sight, touch, and sound to aptly update Lysistrata ’s acts of refusal as deeply gendered and racialized calls for intimate justice. In effect, audiences learn, move, chant, yearn, and envision a better world alongside the characters in the film. As a result, the goals of Chi-Raq are achieved in ways that are both more compellingly relevant and more radical than any other contemporary Lysistrata adaptation in recent memory.

Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - Apr 19 2019


  • Lysistrata
  • Chi-Raq
  • Spike Lee
  • immersive theatre
  • intimate justice
  • political performance
  • cinema of resistance
  • Classical adaptation


  • Arts and Humanities
  • English Language and Literature

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