Spike Lee blasts the New York Times’ A.O. Scott: “Your criticism of me as a hypocrite is lame”

The director posts an open letter, says Scott didn't do his research

Topics: Spike Lee, a. o. scott, The New York Times, Brooklyn, Gentrification,

Spike Lee has used social media to issue a blistering response to New York Times film critic A.O. Scott — and it’s hard to imagine Scott’s response.

Over the weekend, Scott wrote in the Times about the changes in Brooklyn over time, uncorking well-worn tropes like “Girls” and “Stuff White People Like” in a taxonomy of the borough; the whole thing was in part a response to Lee’s anger over Brooklyn gentrification, which Scott characterized as “a mixture of hyperbole, provocation and plain truth.” Scott cites, without apparent critique, a Daily News Op-Ed that cast Lee, who’s made many films in Brooklyn but currently lives in Manhattan, as a hypocrite. Indeed, he suggested that Lee is one of many “who live in glass brownstones” — and ergo should not throw stones.  As for the working-class, diverse Brooklyn that has been subsumed by the sort of “Portlandia”-esque (Scott’s comparison, not mine) that the Times’s other sections delight in covering, Scott suggests the task falls to those other than Lee to document it:

“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.”

Lee justifies his own existence beautifully in his post, one that, he writes, exists in its current form because he doesn’t trust the Times to edit it. When it comes to Scott’s description of Lee as a Manhattanite, Lee counters:

“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.”

Though Scott never came out and called Lee a hypocrite for speaking out about Brooklyn while living in Manhattan, Lee read into his citation of the Daily News grave charges, and responds in kind:

“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.”

He goes on, citing several more of his films; the point is very much made. Lee also cites a list of celebrities who’ve left Brooklyn but continue to “REPRESENT BROOKLYN”; the implication is that they (Larry King, Marisa Tomei, Chris Rock and others) are a side of the borough that Scott, looking more closely at present-day signifiers like fixed-gear bikes, missed.

Scott’s piece was somewhat befuddling for the degree to which it backed toward insinuations about Lee’s motives and his right to speak without every coming out and laying the cards on the table. Reading it, one wanted to ask Scott whether he believed Lee had a right to speak about gentrification, and whether those thoughts as expressed made sense or not; buried beneath all the references (“Portlandia” — really?) was a sense of unease, a greater willingness to cite others’ critiques of Lee than Scott’s own opinions. Lee read into the piece a set of motives and beliefs; it is now on Scott to respond, or not.

Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

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