Back when Amazon first decided to make streaming original programming part of its offerings, there were questions about whether the online shopping giant could compete with already established streaming companies like Netflix. Then the Amazon original series arrived, Transparent started winning Golden Globes, and those questions seemed to be put to rest. Now, we get to see if Amazon has what it takes to make it in the movie business.
The company announced today that Chi-raq, from writer/director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X), will be its first original movie. Chi-raq just wrapped shooting in Chicago, after rumors that Amazon was funding the project swirled for months. Now, those rumors are confirmed.
“Spike Lee is one of the most distinct and visionary filmmakers of our time,” said Ted Hope, Head of Motion Picture Production at Amazon Studios. “It would be impossible to find a better filmmaker with whom to launch our studio. He has a unique voice, a distinct eye, and he tackles important subjects with humor and heart, pointing to solutions and not exploiting the problems. Chi-Raq may be his greatest, and definitely his boldest film yet—everything about it is distinctive.”
Chi-raq will take on a subject Lee’s already well-versed in — inner city violence — and the film was drawing controversy from the start because of its title (it’s a mash-up of Chicago and Iraq) and concerns that it would make Chicago out to be some kind of warzone that no tourist would ever want to visit. Back in May, Lee hosted a press conference with John Cusack, one of the film’s co-stars, to reassure everyone that he was taking the film very seriously, and that he hoped focusing on such issues could save lives. In Amazon’s press release today, he again stressed how important he believes the project is.
“I’m honored to be part of the film that will launch Amazon Studios and to tell a story that is so important. 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,” said Spike Lee.
We don’t know much about the movie’s plot, but Lee’s definitely not lying about that cast. The film will star Teyonah Parris (Dear White People) in what’s billed as a “breakout” role, and the supporting cast includes Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Harry Lennix, Steve Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, and of course Cusack. We also don’t know when the film will be released yet, though The Hollywood Reporter notes that Amazon is planning a quick December theatrical release, to qualify the film for 2016’s awards season, before making it available to stream on Amazon Prime.
So, Amazon’s in the movie business, and our media landscape is set for another big shift. How long before they win an Oscar?