Kanye West won’t star in Spike Lee movie, gets honorary Ph.D. instead

Kanye West

Chicago’s own Kanye West speaks after receiving an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on May 11 at the Auditorium Theatre during the school’s commencement ceremony.

(Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune)

Spike Lee’s new musical “Chiraq” is based on Aristophanes’ Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” but it will feature one fewer self-proclaimed deity than previously anticipated.

Contrary to early reports, Kanye West’s reps confirmed to Pitchfork that he would not be starring in the film, opposite John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson and Samuel L. Jackson. However, the rep added that “there are discussions for West’s possible involvement in the film’s soundtrack, schedule permitting.”

The film is slated for theatrical and online release via Amazon Original Movies. Based on the classic tale of Greek women withholding sex to convince men to end the Peloponnesian war, the film will update the story into the more contemporary context of Chicago’s current gang violence. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not entirely onboard with Lee’s vision, saying at a Chicago press conference that he had “an honest, frank conversation” with Lee about the title, which references a common term in local hip-hop for describing the city’s more violent neighborhoods. "I was clear that I was not happy about the title,” he said, and “I told him also that there are very good people that live in Englewood...and there’s a lot of positive things that are happening in Englewood.”


A different West-affiliated project got more local support, however, this one from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where West was awarded an honorary doctorate Sunday. 

West gave a formal hourlong Q&A session for the occasion, during which he highlighted his longtime interests in design and visual art (West has collaborated with Takashi Murakami, Samantha Beecroft and George Condos on album and performance art pieces).

“To be stereotyped as a hip-hop artist can be very much a hood that can put you in positions where people wouldn’t expect you to be,” West said about his visual art work. “And in the same way how, when you step into places that have a ‘you’re not from here'-type vibe, if you are from there, and you’re too accredited, a lot of times people will put their guards up, and be less willing to work with you. And a lot of times I’ve been able to work with the most amazing people on the planet because I was considered not to be a threat to what they do – because I was just there to be a ‘hip-hop artist.’" 

Later, he made a short and genial appearance at the graduation itself, where he gave a commencement speech, riffing on the self-portraiture of his old nemesis George W. Bush and underlining the fact that, contrary to popular opinion, he really is pretty happy most of the time.


Now that he has the degree for which he pined on his 2005 single “Hey Mama,” his mother Donda would surely have been proud of him.  

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