NEW YORK (AP) — In a rant that quickly went viral, film director Spike Lee disparaged the gentrification of historically black New York City neighborhoods and reignited an age-old debate over the merits of economic change.
Lee, who grew up in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene, made the comments during a Black History Month speech at the Pratt Institute in that borough Tuesday. No stranger to making incendiary remarks about race and society, Lee said gentrification had little regard for people who "have a culture that's been laid down for generations."
"So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why's there more police protection in BedStuy and Harlem now?" he demanded, using local shorthand for Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. "Why's the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We've been here!"
Lee, who moved out of Brooklyn years ago, recently listed his Upper East Side townhouse for $32 million.
The rant, which quickly went viral, didn't really bother Catherine Kunicki, 60, a longtime resident of Fort Greene who used to live down the block from Lee's family. She recalled seeing the director standing in a local delicatessen where she would get coffee when he was researching his classic film "Do the Right Thing," which takes place in Brooklyn.
"He's right," she said. "He's just angry."
Kunicki moved to the neighborhood in 1971 when she enrolled in the Pratt Institute. Back then, packs of feral dogs would roam the streets at night, and the grass grew through the sidewalks up to her knees during the summertime.
On the street where the Brooklyn Academy of Music now sits, drunks and drug addicts used to throw pans at people when they walked past, she said. The charming, brownstone-lined neighborhood is both safer and wealthier now, which has its drawbacks and its positives.
"Unfortunately, the only people who can afford to buy a house and live here and raise a family are Wall Street people with huge bonuses who can come in and pay cash," Kunicki said. "And I have to admit, my neighbors are arrogant. They're not awful; they just believe they're entitled."