Synopsis: Chicago: America’s Hidden War pulls back the curtain and takes an inside war-journalistic approach to the insidious violence that’s plagued Chicago’s streets for far too long. Through riveting access, this film exposes Chicago’s pervasive genocidal-like behavior; what birthed and contributed to this war; and why so little is done to stop the normalization of Chicago’s new homicidal culture. Though frighteningly eye-opening, this powerful documentary is also filled with actionable hope, transforming apathy into empathy. Urgent, stunning and revealing, Chicago: America’s Hidden War ultimately culminates as a much-needed Call-to-Action – regardless of where you are from or how you are different. No longer will this be seen as just Chicago’s war . . . THIS IS OUR WAR.
Corey Brooks (Interviewee)
At the height of the crack epidemic, I was lured into the drug world at just 11 years old and regrettably wasted my teenage years entrenched in my native New York City as a drug boss. Garish memories of witnessing people killed right in front of me are haunting images I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. While the unfortunate horror I lived through clearly equipped me with some keen insights into Chicago’s pervasive homicidal culture, it also imbued me with a most profound hope that things could indeed change. The most challenging part of making this documentary was seeing the pain and hurt in the children’s eyes and the community at large, a familiar ache that hearkened to my own past. I am grateful to have been trusted with entre into some pretty clandestine circumstances. When I communicated with active shooters in Chicago —even with a full camera crew in tow — I was afforded unusual access into exclusive gang meetings on the most notoriously dangerous streets in the U.S. At any moment, we could all be fired on by rival gangs lurking just one block away.
My approach to filmmaking differs from traditional cinema verité by following compelling characters and using the larger narrative of the city to anchor the film in realism. My intention was not to draw hard lines of mixing journalism with politics or to force anything into the story, but to strive as hard as possible to make a pure, balanced piece of powerful art. Filmmakers are tasked with carrying the story and documenting truth with a grounded sense of responsibility. As a student of the craft, I applaud the important job documentaries do to highlight problems.
One thing I know for sure: Apathy is the real enemy. I firmly believe education and exposure are how you learn to see things differently. People need to be exposed to see something they have never seen. Once they do, the position of where their opinion comes from will change — turning from apathy into empathy. Amplifying the voices of those who socially were not being heard was a huge value.
For too long, Chicago’s gun violence has been met with apathy. Whenever its murder rates hit national news, the carnage always gave way to political games over gun control, which totally missed the point. While trillions of dollars were invested to fight wars overseas, little was being done to address the plight of Americans at war on our own soil in America’s Heartland. Since the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, over 77,000 people in Chicago have been shot and over 10,000 have been killed. This surpasses the number of U.S. casualties suffered in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.
Before I ever thought about picking up a camera, our team dedicated three years to going in and out of Chicago just to learn what was going on and ways we could help stop the murders. It was shocking how little the vast majority of Americans outside of Chicago really knew about the sorrow and bloodbaths staining warzone-like neighborhoods in the most populous city in the Midwest. No one seemed to want to talk about the real problems, instead just insisting that people are doing it to themselves – an easy way out of caring. I felt compelled to make my directorial debut pulling back the curtain on Chicago: America’s Hidden War. With staggering upticks in gun violence exploding across the country, we knew we had to get this timely film out this year to shed light on the plight of Chicago and other similarly challenged inner cities. This content truly needs to be seen and heard to make a difference in the lives of those languishing in our country.
I see Chicago as a cautionary tale. The startling things revealed in this documentary should be thoroughly studied by social science scholars in order to help other crime-ridden areas avoid the shockingly warlike environments in some Black and Latino urban communities. The genocidal-like disregard for human life runs so rampant that even the killing of our Black women and children has been numbingly normalized.
Whether we interviewed gang members or protestors, it became clear that many on Chicago’s South and West sides are grappling with extreme trauma. We filmed them with dignity, abandoned poverty-porn, and insightfully brought the viewer into the life of Chicagoans — shooters, sufferers and soldiers. Some of the most notable, unforgettable moments in our film come from the mouths of mere children. We intentionally did not label certain complex subjects, deferring that task instead to the audience after they are able to consider the sum total of a subject’s full experiences. Law enforcement in New Rochelle, NY in particular – who are battling a fresh rise in violent crime – bought out a theater to screen the film exclusively for their police department and said they were mesmerized by the film; that it helped humanize and authentically depict the myriad of challenges they as law enforcement face daily on the streets.
I want the audience to feel a connection to my subjects, no matter where they are from or how they are different. Humanity joins us all together – the pandemic served as a fierce reminder of that. Despite our many divisions, when Americans sound the alarm to tackle a crisis, their compassion is a force to be reckoned with.
The most significant part of this project was knowing we were not just creating a film, but a catalyst for change. The ultimate purpose of Chicago: America’s Hidden War was to spark a movement of both outrage and action over what’s happening in Chicago and other inner cities around the world. Still, I must admit that I had to be prodded to add the “Call-to-Action” ending which now closes the film’s final minutes. Initially, I hesitated, not wanting this project reduced to being a glorified fundraiser. But when I screened earlier versions of the film, 80% of the feedback urged me to go back into the studio to change the ending. Audiences wanted to be left with a game plan of how they could help make a difference in Chicago, especially for the children. And so, I heeded in hopes of harnessing the power of art to instigate substantial positive social change.
Chicago: America’s Hidden War is a well-timed disrupter for good and understanding. We worked to bring accountability to individuals who have watched the film to take a stand and create change. Our website ChicagosHiddenWar.com further educates the audience by shedding light on the unsung heroes of Chicago, driving viewers to support them. We’re continuing to build hope in Chicago through grassroots initiatives by connecting people to the community through education, street outreach, and mentorship programs. These efforts have captured the attention of celebrities like Denzel Washington, Charlamagne tha God, Mark Burnett and others as well as local mayors and police departments. They have supported Chicago’s youth and others at risk in high crime neighborhoods by buying out theaters to allow young people most affected by the violence to attend the movie for free. The film sparks reflection on their choices and the overall effects violence has on children, families, and the community. Celebrity involvement helps, but everyday Americans are needed to engage in this issue.
No longer will we sit on the sidelines and watch another fellow American die from senseless violence. No longer will we turn a blind eye and say they are doing this to themselves. No longer will we choose to only see chaos in Chicago. We choose to see opportunity — opportunity to educate and expose ourselves so that we can take action and become ambassadors. No longer will this be seen as just Chicago’s war . . . THIS IS OUR WAR.
Daylight Supreme is an Afro-Latino director, who has studied classic movies for over 30 years and draws inspiration from directors like David Lean, Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Spike Lee. Although a native New Yorker, Daylight’s travels have brought him through 40 countries across 6 continents and contributes to his expanding knowledge of the fine arts. He is also well-versed in Greek Literature and can read Ancient Greek. All of these experiences now merge and lend to a distinct filmmaking style that has landed his directorial debut, “Chicago: America’s Hidden War,” on the 2021 Academy Awards Eligibility List for Best Documentary Feature.