Monday, 3 March 2014

Film director Spike Lee complains about whites invading his old neighbourhood – one’s heart bleeds

The American film director Spike Lee is a prominent name on the blacklist of left-liberal creatives whose work I assiduously avoid. In fact, his was one of the first names on my list: I found his 1989 film Do the Right Thing so morally repugnant and so socially irresponsible that I decided me and Spike wer never going to see eye-to-eye. This meant I had to miss his screen adaptation of Richard Price’s brilliant novel Clockers in 1994 – but I’ve also managed to avoid a lot of films which would no doubt have made me feel very, very guilty about being white.

Spike’s one of those successful black people who want to have their cake and guzzle it at the same time: there is literally no set of circumstances which would make him believe that American whites aren't a pack of vicious racists. He’s recently been ranting about the gentrification of black neighbourhoods in New York by white middle-class incomers who don’t respect the areas’ vibrant traditions. Apparently, some snooty newbies moved in next door to Spike’s dad’s brownstone and promptly complained to the police about the noise he was making on his acoustic double bass. Apart from the truly appalling racist persecution suffered by his old man, Spike also railed against young white professionals walking their dogs in a local park, which, he claimed, made it look like the “motherfucking Westminster dog show” (I'm not sure if that's its official title). Worse, these hooligans were complaining to police about the noise made by park drummers who have been "entertaining" locals for the past 40 years. How very dare they!

My favourite section of Lee’s ravings (made at a lecture to mark African-American History Month) was this one:
“So, 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!” 
Well, I could offer answers to those questions, but, given that our police long ago gave up any pretence at tackling anti-social behaviour, they now evidently have oodles of time to investigate bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers who havent read The Left-Liberal Guide to Acceptably Enlightened Commenting: Compassion for Dummies, I’d better keep shtum.

Spike’s righteous rantings have resulted in some unexpected and unwelcome consequences. Two brownstone buildings – including the old Lee homestead in Brooklyn – have been vandalised: among other damage, the words,“Do the Right Thing” have been spray-painted on a wall and scrawled onto the side of the “stoop” (I think that’s the name for the stairs leading up to the front door, but I could be wrong). Lee’s half-brother, who lives in one of the properties, has called on Spike to stop mentioning the house (165 Washington Park, in case you were wondering).

Just imagine the reaction if Spike Lee had been a white film director complaining about an influx of blacks into his old neighbourhood. That, of course, would have been racist.  


  1. I have read the excellent "Clockers" and seen the dreadful film version so count yourself lucky.

    If you want to get the full flavour of Lee's personality try and catch his interview with James Lipton [in full "I am in the presence of genius" mode] on "Actor's Studio". Chippy, awkward, self-righteous. Not dissimilar to our own, deeply unloved Nigel Kennedy. Von Aschenbach meets a pocket Shaft.

    1. The pocket Shaft does appear to have entirely taken leave of what once passed for his senses:

      'You know how reluctant I am to engage in an argument with another film director,' yelled an incensed Lee over the phone.
      "But Steve McQueen can only blame himself. He put his claim in the title of the film. I called my film The 25th Hour, not 25 Hours for precisely this reason. If a director is going to handle the sensitive topic of slavery and this blood stain on American history and he calls his film 12 Years a Slave, I want it to last 12 damned years."


  2. I may surprise you on this one. I have some sympathy, not for lee...who is mostly a horses ass, for the people in these neighborhoods. It's the parents of these people moving in and complaining that have made Florida unlivable for Southerners...and will tell you they're doing you a favor in the process.

    There's another issue present in most of his complaints and it was raised in an editorial...the all black middle class neighborhoods that lee romanticizes were a product of segregation. There's almost no talk of the economic and social impact of desegregation on black neighborhoods...except to blame whites for leaving town.

    One thing to keep in mind with Do The Right that time in the northeast there were a series of racist killings (Howard Beach being the most publicized). Racial tension was at a boiling point there (again). People may be forgiven for not taking much notice as they were busy seeing Mississippi Burning for the eleventh time.

    1. I'm not ignoring this, Erik - just doing some heavyweight mulling.