Even Spike Lee’s Wife Teases Him About Kickstarting Gentrification in Brooklyn

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29 Jun 2013, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA --- Celebrity arrivals at the Michael Jackson ONE World Premiere at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on June 29, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Michael Jackson ONE is a sonic, tonic fusion of acrobatics, dance and visuals that provides the audience with the ultimate immersive musical experience. Pictured: Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee  --- Image by ? STARPICZ/Splash News/Corbis
Photo: Starpics/Splash News/Corbis

Despite Spike Lee’s strong anti-gentrification remarks earlier this year (and his subsequent, sometimes defensive follow-ups) the director refused to rant about “motherfuckin’ hipsters” last night at the 25th anniversary celebration of Do the Right Thing, hosted by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and BAMcinématek. However, the director’s wife of 20 years, Tonya Lewis Lee, weighed in, and confessed she jokes with her husband that he’s partially to blame for the way Brooklyn looks today.

“I may get in trouble for saying this, but I tend to tease Spike about the fact that he’s the one that caused for a lot of the gentrification here in Brooklyn, because he put Brooklyn on the map in a big way, and showed everyone how great and hip and cool it was, and made everyone want to come here,” Lewis Lee told Intelligencer last night. “We were here in Brooklyn a few weeks ago, and I was like, ‘This is because of you.’ And he just laughed. Every now and then when I come back to Brooklyn and I see the changes, I can help but rib him a little bit.”

Over the weekend, the Bed-Stuy block where the film was shot — Stuyvesant between Lexington and Quincy — was officially christened “Do the Right Thing Way,” and the director hosted a block party Saturday. (Last night, extra street signs were on sale for $200 at the screening, autographed by Spike.)

“I haven’t really hung out a lot in Bed-Stuy, but I was there yesterday, and then talking to Spike about it; it is a community that changed. There are white people that live on that block now,” Lewis Lee said. “[Brooklyn] had more of an edge to it than it does now; now it feels almost a little crunchy granola.”

She elaborated, underlining a point her husband made: that low-income communities are often lacking in city services until gentrification arrives. “I think the issue is we need to start taking care of our poorer communities before they become these gentrified places,” she said. “So if we really care about these communities, before, and I’ll say moneyed people [arrive] — I don’t think it’s just white people — we need policies that make sure kids are getting education. We need to make sure the people have opportunities to get work, and jobs. We need to make sure when people are trying to buy houses they can get the funds from banks and not be taken advantage of.”

Spike, meanwhile, refused to answer our questions about his thoughts on Bed-Stuy now. “I’m not getting into the gentrification thing with you, New York Magazine, today.”