Spike Lee has never held back his passion for New York – as evidenced in films such as Do The Right Thing and Crooklyn – but don’t get him started on the gentrification of the Big Apple.
The Oscar-nominated director is drawing notice for his expletive-laden rant against the steady restoration of New York’s previously destitute neighbourhoods by white, middle-class “hipsters.”
On Tuesday night, Lee was the guest speaker at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for a lecture in honour of African-American History Month.
According to attendees, everything was going swell at the lecture until somebody asked Lee a question about “the other side” of the gentrification debate. And then the fireworks began.
“Let me just kill you right now,” interjected Lee, “because there was some …article in the New York Times saying ‘the good of gentrification.’ I don’t believe that.”
And then Lee commenced to tell the crowd what he really thought about the changing times in New York’s most prominent neighbourhoods.
Among other highlights, Lee stated, “I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights, for the facilities to get better?”
And Lee closed off by asking, “Why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!”
Needless to say, Lee’s spontaneous outburst was front-page news in most New York newspapers the next day. New York Daily News columnist Joshua Greenman, who is white and lives in Brooklyn, dismissed the director’s charges outright.
“The phenomenon he decries is mostly innocuous, inevitable and, in a diverse and economically dynamic city, healthy,” said Greenman in his column.
Lee was noticeably calmer on Wednesday night when he addressed the firestorm he created during an interview on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.
“My problem is, when you move into a neighbourhood, have some respect for the history, for the culture,” Lee told Cooper.
And for all his earlier rage, Lee appeared earnest when he said that all he wanted to do was preserve the city where he lives and works.
“I just hope there is affordable housing for everybody so New York City can stay the great city that it is,” Lee said. “Because if you have to be a millionaire to live in New York City, New York City is not going to be the great city that it is.”