In Sunday's New York Times, film critic A.O. Scott delivered a nostalgic column about the ever-changing borough of Brooklyn and its portrayal onscreen, using Spike Lee's recent gentrification rant as a springboard. "As is often the case with Mr. Lee's public utterances, this one was a mixture of hyperbole, provocation and plain truth," writes Scott, handling the director's comments about "Christopher Columbus syndrome" gingerly. "What's the saying about people who live in glass brownstones? Nearly everyone who brings up gentrification is implicated in some way, and accusations of hypocrisy on Mr. Lee's part were not long in coming." That was more than enough to set off Spike.
Paraphrasing an argument made in the Daily News by Errol Louis, Scott notes that Lee now lives on the Upper East Side, and even when he lived in Fort Greene, "was both an agent and a beneficiary of the gentrification he now decries."
Lee took the mention as a questioning of his Brooklyn credibility and unleashed, in a post linked from his Instagram, with the disclaimer, "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." It is indeed unedited, although with fewer F words than last time.
Gentrification, he argues, is great for "new arrivals," but not for black and brown residents, who are being forced out. "Mr. Scott, what you fail to understand is that I can live on The Moon and what I said is still TRUE," he writes. "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." He goes on to cite a diverse list of luminaries that have left the borough but "will always REPRESENT BROOKLYN," including Barry Manilow, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Rock, and Woody Allen.
Lee's entire response, which only addresses the parts of Scott's column that include his name, is below:
A Letter To New York Times Film Critic Mr. A.O. Scott responding to his article in the Sunday Arts & Leisure Section, “WHOSE BROOKLYN IS IT, ANYWAY?”
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.
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.”
WE BEEN HERE
Da Republic of Brooklyn, New York
And Dat’s Da Truth Ruth
.@SpikeLee thanks for this but I was not accusing you of anything, just reporting (and critiquing) someone else's accusation.— a. o. scott (@aoscott) March 31, 2014