Film director Spike Lee, known for films that deal frankly with racial issues, appeared in Chicago on Thursday (14 May) to defend his planned movie about the city, after its reported title, Chiraq, was criticised by local politicians.

Speaking at a South Side church and surrounded by African-American mothers carrying pictures of children killed in street violence, Lee said artists hold up a mirror to society and are not afraid to tell the truth.

"Artists I love, whether it be painters, sculptors, novelists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, actors, they hold a mirror up to what is happening in the world and they do that with no fear. If you have fear then how are you going to tell the truth?"

He said people who know nothing about it have been expressing opinions about the film. Lee referred to the movie's "so-called title," but did not say if Chiraq would be the title and did not take questions.

"Chiraq" is street slang that compares the nation's third largest city to the war zones of the Middle East. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, US Senator Dick Durbin, and local alderman Anthony Beale have expressed concern over the title, with Beale calling it "insulting."

Chicago recorded 407 murders in 2014, far ahead of the 328 recorded in the larger city of New York. Chicago has long fought a reputation for violence, enhanced by the mythology surrounding Prohibition-era gangster Al Capone.

Appearing with Lee was Chicago actor John Cusack, who is involved in the movie along with Samuel L Jackson, according to IMDB. Cusack challenged the idea that the making of the film was controversial.

"There really is no controversy around this film except a bit of a manufactured political controversy," he said.