Spike Lee defends "Chiraq" title for movie about Chicago

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee appeared on Chicago's South Side Thursday with parents who have lost children to the city's gun and gang violence to defend his choice to make a movie about the city with the Iraq-inspired title "Chiraq."

Lee has faced criticism from Chicago officials over the title, pronounced (shy-Rak') and combining parts of the names Chicago and violence-torn Iraq. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has told the director that it was unfair to the people in the Englewood neighborhood where the film takes place.

But Lee said that it's an artist's job to hold a mirror up to what is happening in the world without fear in order to tell the truth.

"This is not a joke. This is not a game," Lee said at a news conference. "This is real life and death and that's the way we're going to approach this."

Actor John Cusack, a native of Chicago, said he was proud to be in the film.

"I am 100 percent sure that the great city of Chicago can survive a film of conscience," Cusack said. "I love my city of Chicago, all of Chicago, and I would never do anything to hurt it."

Lee would not take questions from reporters.

He appeared alongside parents holding photographs of the children they lost to the city's violence.

Among them was Sarah Turner, whose 42-year-old son, Michael, was shot four times in the back in 2013. No one was ever arrested in the killing.

She said the movie title "Chiraq" was appropriate.

"Because it is what it is; it's a war zone," she said. "You can't feel comfortable all over and even in your own homes. Every time you turn on the news somebody's being shot. Babies are being shot right in their own homes."

Lee said that 14 people were shot overnight in Chicago, and three of them were killed.

The director arrived in Chicago Tuesday on his latest visit to prepare for the film and went that morning to a funeral for the brother of one of the members of his production team. Lee said the man was "shot down in cold blood."

"No one wants to be a member of this club right here," Lee said. "We don't want any more members. We want to shut it down."