Brooklyn

03.31.14

Spike Lee Blasts The New York Times’ Story on Brooklyn Gentrification in Fiery Op-Ed

Whose Brooklyn is it, anyway? Spike Lee and The New York Times' A.O. Scott disagree on this.

On Sunday, The New York Times ran a front-page story titled “Whose Brooklyn Is It, Anyway?” The piece, written by Times film critic A.O. Scott, looked at the changing faces and places of the New York City borough through the prism of pop culture—shows like Welcome Back, Kotter and Girls to films like Saturday Night Fever and The Squid and the Whale.

The piece was crafted in response to statements made by acclaimed Brooklyn-born filmmaker Spike Lee who, at an event celebrating Black History Month in Brooklyn last month, unleashed an epic rant aimed at white gentrifiers for perpetuating “Christopher Columbus syndrome”—interlopers who claimed the artsy, edgy borough as their own while booting out those that had previously laid claim to it.

“You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start Bogarting,” he said, “and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they did in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people.”

Scott’s piece, meanwhile, concluded on a note of relative hope.

“The Brooklyn of that time, as recalled by Mr. Lethem and Mr. Lee, is a place where a painter and a writer — or a schoolteacher and a musician — could raise their children in relative comfort,” he wrote. “It was also a place where such families lived in close, sometimes uncomfortable proximity to people in very different circumstances, where class and race could not be wished away. That Brooklyn still exists and cannot entirely be bought out, built over or exiled to the kingdom of memory. It will be the task of the artists and writers who live there now, native and otherwise, to discover it.”

On Monday afternoon, Lee responded to the Times story by tweeting out an op-ed he’d penned.

You can read the op-ed in full here:

Dear Mr. A.O. Scott,

I have chose the platform of my Social Media to respond to you. I do not want the New York Times editing, rearranging my words, thoughts or even ignoring a letter to you. I’m writing what I feel and there is no need for somebody else at The New York Times to interpret it.

The Truth is The Truth. The Truth is The Light, and as they say in Brasil “One Finger Can’t Block The Sun.” The Truth is Gentrification is Great for the New Arrivals in Harlem, South Bronx, Bushwick, Red Hook, Bed-Stuy Do or Die and Fort Greene, and in many other cities across the U.S. But not so great for The Brown and Black Residents who have been in these Neighborhoods for decades and are being forced out, to the Suburbs, Down South or back to their Native Islands.

Your criticism of me as a hypocrite is lame, weak and not really thought out. You stated in your Article that because I live in The Upper East Side and I’m talking about Gentrification that makes me Hypocrite. The fact is where I live has nothing to do with it. Your argument is OKEY DOKE. If you did your research you would see I’m a product of The New York Public School System, from Kindergarten to graduating from John Dewey High School in Coney Island. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia and my Family moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn when I was Three. The Lees were the 1st Black Family to move into the predominantly Italian-American Brooklyn Neighborhood of Cobble Hill. My Parents bought their first home in 1968, a Brownstone in Fort Greene, where my Father still lives. Did you know his and a Next door Neighbor’s Brownstone were vandalized by Graffiti after my remarks on Gentrification at Pratt Institute? Curious you left that out of your article.

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A man walks down a street in the Fort Greene neighborhood where the director and artist Spike Lee once lived on February 27, 2014. (Spencer Platt)

Mr. Scott, what you fail to understand is that I can live on The Moon and what I said is still TRUE. No matter where I choose to live that has nothing to do with it. I will always carry Brooklyn in my Blood, Heart and Soul. Did anyone call Jay-Z a Hypocrite when he helped with bringing The Nets from New Jersey to The Barclays Center in Brooklyn at the Corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue? Hey Buddy, Jay-Z had been long, long gone from The Marcy Projects and Brooklyn a long, long, long time ago and more Power to my BK ALL DAY Brother. Should Jay-Z no longer mention Brooklyn in his Songs because he no longer resides there? You already know the answer to that one, Sir.

Let’s just say Mr. Scott, we follow your ill thought out, half developed argument that I’m a Hypocrite. Since you are a New York Times Film Critic this should be very easy for you. According to your logic I should not have Written and Directed JUNGLE FEVER because I have never lived in HARLEM and BENSONHURST. I should not have Directed CLOCKERS because I have never lived in Boerum Hill and the Gowanus Projects. I should have not Written and Directed HE GOT GAME because I have never lived in CONEY ISLAND. I should have never Directed my two Epic Documentaries on Hurricane Katrina – WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE and IF GOD IS WILLING AND DA CREEK DON’T RISE because I have never lived in NEW ORLEANS. Or maybe, perhaps I should have never WRITTEN and DIRECTED DO THE RIGHT THING because I have never, ever, ever lived in BED-STUY (DO OR DIE). Do you see where this is going?

In closing please understand it’s what you get growing up and learning on the Streets of Brooklyn that empowers you to go anywhere on this God’s Earth to “Do Ya Thang” to be successful in the path you have chosen. It doesn’t matter where you choose to live because Brooklyn goes where you go. It still lives inside Larry King, Sandy Koufax, Big Daddy Kane, Bernard and Albert King, Barry Manilow, Stephon Marbury, Rhea Perlman, Adam Sandler, Neil Sedaka, Jerry Seinfeld, Busta Rhymes, Mike Tyson, Harvey Keitel, Willie Randolph, Carmelo Anthony, Mel Brooks, Marisa Tomei, Marv Alvert, Darren Aronofsky, Pat Benatar, Larry David, Mos Def, Tony Danza, Alan Dershowitz, Neil Diamond, Richard Dreyfuss, Debbie Gibson, Rudy Giuliani, David Geffen, Lou Gossett, Jr., Elliott Gould, Mark Jackson, Jimmy Kimmel, Talib Kweli, Nia Long, Alyssa Milano, Stephanie Mills, Esai Morales, Chris Mullin, Chuck Schumer, Jimmy Smits, Joe Torre, Eli Wallach, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Woody Allen, Barbara Streisand and may I mention none of the above still reside in B.K., but they will always REPRESENT BROOKLYN. Mr. Scott, please learn “SPREADIN’ LOVE IS THE BROOKLYN WAY.”

WAKE UP 
WE BEEN HERE

Spike Lee
Filmmaker
Fort Greene
Da Republic of Brooklyn, New York
YA-DIG? SHO-NUFF
And Dat’s Da Truth Ruth