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Spike Lee takes on gentrification in epic rant

Spike Lee does not like gentrification, and he ripped into someone who tried to ask him about its benefits in a rant Tuesday night.
American film director Spike Lee at his film production building in Brooklyn, Nov. 21, 2013.
American film director Spike Lee at his film production building in Brooklyn, Nov. 21, 2013.

Spike Lee, the filmmaker whose film "Do the Right Thing" shined a light on Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood 25 years ago, is still fiercely protective of the area. And he proved it this week in a rant against gentrification that is sweeping through parts of New York City.

"Why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed-Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better?" Lee said Tuesday during a lecture in Brooklyn celebrating Black History Month. "The garbage wasn’t picked up every motherf*****' day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. P.S. 20 was not good. P.S. 11. Rothschild 294. The police weren’t around."

Lee's comments were prompted by an audience member asking the filmmaker to address some benefits of gentrification.

"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?" he asked later. "We been here!"

Lee took issue with a phenomenon he called "Christopher Columbus Syndrome," in which the new transplants to an "emerging" neighborhood claim ownership of it as if they have discovered the area. "You can’t discover this! We been here," he said. 

The filmmaker railed against the ways in which residents on the forefront of gentrification try to change the communities they've moved into, complaining that his father has had people call the police on him with noise complaints in recent years because he likes to play music.

"I'm for democracy and letting everybody live but you gotta have some respect," he said. "You can't just come in when people have a culture that's been laid down for generations and you come in and now s*** gotta change because you're here?"

Listen to the full audio of Lee's rant, courtesy of Joe Coscarelli/New York magazine. (Note: audio contains profanity.)