Spike Lee has directed Amazon’s first ever original feature film.
The movie, which has the working title Chi-Raq, marks the streaming service’s first entry into the Hollywood movie biz, after bagging several awards – and Emmy nominations – for original TV series Transparent.
Chi-Raq will have an all-star cast, including Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson Steve Harris and Angela Bassett, with breakout star Teyonah Parris playing the lead character. The film is written by Lee and writer/director Kevin Willmott and “will shed light on the serious, but often overlooked issue of violence in inner city Chicago”.
The project was shot entirely in Chicago and wrapped last week.
The announcement follows previous comments from Spike Lee that watching classic films on a smartphone instead of a cinema screen is “heartbreaking”.
“I know I’m a dinosaur,” Lee said earlier this year at a conference in New York. “I know it’s not a popular view, but as a filmmaker — we kill ourselves with editing. With lighting. With sound.”
Now, though, Lee has joined forced with Amazon, which is racing against Netflix to take the lead in a hard-fought rivalry. Netflix has already announced its own slate of feature films, including projects starring Brad Pitt and Idris Elba, while Amazon has also announced it will produce Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Like Netflix, Amazon Original Movies (first announced in January) is an initiative to produce and acquire original movies for both theatrical release and early online distribution exclusively for members – a dual release that will make their titles eligible for Oscar consideration.
Bob Berney recently joined the Amazon Original Movies team to lead theatrical distribution and marketing efforts and will be managing third-party distributors.
He explains: “For Chi-Raq, and for future projects, we will collaborate with a top-tier theatrical distributor who shares our vision and passion. We will work together to craft bold and distinctive marketing and distribution approaches for all our films.”
“Spike Lee is one of the most distinct and visionary filmmakers of our time,” adds 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.”
“I’m honored to be part of the film that will launch Amazon Studios and to tell a story that is so important,” comments Lee. “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.”
Amazon is still busy in the TV world, though: also premiering this autumn are new series Hand of God, Red Oaks and The Man in the High Castle.