After months of rumors, it's official. Amazon Studios will produce Oscar-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee's next major film (working title, "Chi-Raq"). And it will be Amazon's very first original movie.
Directed by Lee and co-written with writer and director Kevin Willmott, the film "will shed light on the serious, but often overlooked issue of violence in inner city Chicago," according to a release Wednesday from Amazon. "Chi-Raq" was shot entirely in Chicago and wrapped up last week.
Lee is known for being one of the most visionary filmmakers of his generation, whose credits include "Malcolm X," "Do the Right Thing," and "Get On the Bus."
The all-star cast -- which includes Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Teyonah Parris, D.B. Sweeney, Harry Lennix, Steve Harris, Angela Bassett, John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson -- is a big win for Amazon. Over the last few years, the e-commerce giant has been competing with Netflix to score entertainment industry notables to exclusive deals, all in an effort to dominate the video-streaming space. More specifically, it underscores Amazon's push to expand its Studio's division, which acquires content for Amazon's Prime Instant Video streaming service.
"For Chi-Raq, and for future projects, we will collaborate with a top-tier theatrical distributor who shares our vision and passion," Bob Berney, head of marketing and distribution at Amazon Studios, said in a statement. "We will work together to craft bold and distinctive marketing and distribution approaches for all our films."
The working film has already garnered its fair share of controversy. In April, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he met with Spike Lee to let him know he wasn't happy about the then proposed title, "Chi-Raq," a name coined by Chicago rappers drawing a comparison between the street violence of Chicago and the violence of Iraq.
Commenting on the film in April, Emanuel said of Englewood, a neighborhood on Chicago's South Side: "There are very good people who live in Englewood, who are raising their family...and there's a lot of positive things that are happening in Englewood, mainly driven by the people who make up Englewood." Emanuel noted that gun violence is not limited to Chicago, but also happening in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, where Lee is from, and other cities.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment about when the film would hit theaters or about the official title of the film.
The announcement about the deal with Lee follows the company's January announcement that Amazon Original Movies would produce and acquire original movies distribution exclusively for Prime members, who pay $99 a year for unlimited two-day deliveries and other benefits. At the same time, the company announced it had signed a deal with Woody Allen that would allow him to write and direct his first-ever television series -- a half-hour show dubbed "Untitled Woody Allen Project" that's set to premiere at some point next year exclusively on Amazon Prime Instant Video.
Meanwhile, Netflix has snagged deals with big talent such as actor Kevin Spacey and comedian Chelsea Handler. Handler's deal will allow her to produce a documentary-style show exclusively on Netflix's network. Meanwhile, the company also has several original series, including "Orange is the New Black, "House of Cards" and "Marco Polo."
But it's not just about Amazon and Netflix. Other companies, including Hulu, which announced that its subscription-based model would include "Seinfeld" in June, are all vying for high-priced programming and talent.