On the first anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington that took the United States – and the world – by storm on January 20, 2017 in the wake of the deeply unsettling inauguration of 45, women everywhere came together once again to protest The Man No One (sane) Wanted in Office.
In 2017, the Women’s March was a beacon of hope and defiance. In 2018, it is a testament to the power and resilience of women everywhere. Let’s show that same power in the voting booth this year. #PowerToThePolls
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) January 20, 2018
From Stanford to right here in Ann Arbor, women united to remind everyone that our fight is still not over. Our rights, and the rights of so many other marginalized groups, are still in jeopardy, and we must continue to fight for those rights as we weather this storm of a presidency for the next three years.
Although I personally could not attend the Ann Arbor march today (I did make it out to Lansing last year, which was honestly such a feeling of empowerment, being surrounded by so many other empowered women), I kept an eye on social media and felt almost as inspired as I did a year ago when I saw how many women and allies showed up. I particularly enjoyed an image shared by a friend on Instagram, who was depicted holding a sign saying ‘Public CERVIX announcement, this pussy grabs BACK’ in front of a man defiantly holding up a sign saying ‘Make me a sammich!’
It is so appalling to know that, after everything we have been through in the last year, and all of the headlines that have come out of not just the things that our President has said but also current events – like the systematic disenfranchisement of several prominent celebrity men who have sexually assaulted other members of the community – there are still people out there who think this way.
In the midst of seeing these posts throughout the day from the various Women’s Marches all over the country and spending much of the morning hashing out the inherent problems in Classics as a discipline and with classical reception in media in general, I remembered the days in undergrad, where I was exposed to Spike Lee’s masterpiece, Chi-Raq. A modern adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, what film could have been more appropriate on a day like today?
By the two Goddesses, now can’t you see
All we have to do is idly sit indoors
With smooth roses powdered on our cheeks,
Our bodies burning naked through the folds
Of shining Amorgos‘ silk, and meet the men
With our dear Venus-plats plucked trim and neat.
Their stirring love will rise up furiously,
They’ll beg our arms to open. That’s our time!
We’ll disregard their knocking, beat them off—
And they will soon be rabid for a Peace.
I’m sure of it.
-Lysistrata, Lysistrata 140-154 (trans. Perseus Online)
Released three years ago, Chi-Raq tells the story of a young woman named Lysistrata who, seeing her city plagued by gang violence and wanting to put an end to it, organizes a sex strike in order to bring peace to Chicago. It’s both heart-wrenching and hilarious, poking fun at a serious situation in much the same way that Aristophanes does in his fifth century comedy. It’s a whopping 2 hours long but it doesn’t feel like it – it’ll keep you engaged the whole way through, thanks to stunning cinematography, witty dialogue (in verse!), the periodic appearances by Samuel L. Jackson (he’s a hoot and he doesn’t even talk to anyone other than the audience), and the ingenious adaptation of such a timeless plot line.
But those aren’t the only reasons I love the film. On the one hand, it’s the representation.
If you had never heard of this film before today, would you have ever thought anyone would adapt Aristophanes in such a poignant way? I certainly never did, and yet years after I watched for the first time, a little shocked and a little intrigued, in a dark classroom in the middle of Virginia, singing its praises.
The film might not be set in fifth century Athens, but it still puts people of color in the roles we as classicists are so familiar with. And that’s something. (It is not, for instance, like the ill-fated Gods of Egypt that disappointed so many by casting white men in the lead roles of Egyptian gods. But that’s a totally different issue.)
Whether you’re a classicist or not, I think that so many people would get something out of this film. If you are a classicist, I think you can see why a film like this is so important. Think of all of the other film adaptations of ancient literature you’ve seen – Cleopatra, Troy, 300 – all attempt to stay true to the story for the most part, taking some creative liberties here and there. But what Spike Lee does here is take Aristophanes’ work and effectively transplant it into a new community, with new personalities and new problems.
But is it really new?
My answer would be a firm no.
Instead of perpetuating the white-washed Classics we have all grown so accustomed to (don’t tell me you don’t imagine the characters in your favorite Athenian comedies as white actors parading around in masks), this forces us to recast the characters, to not ignore just how timely the issues that the Athenians were faced with in the fifth century actually are.
The characters in Chi-Raq are fighting for the same things – peace in their city at a time wracked with violence and conflict – using the same tactics – withholding sex, to the utter, albeit comical, dismay of the men – and are faced with the same challenges – not being taken seriously because of their gender. This is the second reason why I love this film so much, and why I think that it is particularly important on today of all days.
It is – both the film and the fifth century play – such a strong display of the power of women to bring about change. It also, of course, highlights the problems inherent in our society – the fact that women would have to resort to something as ridiculous as withholding sex in order to get what we want because we wouldn’t be taken seriously otherwise. In a similar vein, just short of withholding sex from our male counterparts, the fact that we have to organize and wield signs in the cold for hours to get the men (not people, the men) in power to pay attention to us (not actually change anything, though; just to recognize that we are here and that we do, in fact, care about our lives) is pretty ridiculous, too.
Of course, I know that Lysistrata is a work of fiction. It’s a caricature at best – a play written by a man in a society where he knew pretty well that women would never actually revolt and take over the Acropolis for peace. But so many aspects of that play, whether Aristophanes wanted them to or not, resonate in today’s society.
Whether you apply it to gang violence in Chicago or the sexual misconduct of men in Hollywood or the blatant mistreatment of women all over America by our political system, it’s relevant. So, I implore you all to watch this film, and continue to do the good work that you have been doing. Think like Lysistrata. One of these days – I hope – they’ll finally take us seriously.