Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo
HBO’s docuseries on New York, ‘NYC Epicenters 9/11-2021 ½’, perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong with Spike Lee as a filmmaker, as it’s relentlessly incoherent and slavishly addicted to identity politics.
Spike Lee’s new four-parter, ‘NYC Epicenters 9/11-2021 ½’ caused controversy when critics pre-screened it because the finale spent time focusing on the conspiracy theories of the group Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.
Lee, who openly disbelieves the official 9/11 story and in 2006 featured conspiracies regarding the intentional flooding of black neighborhoods in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in his HBO documentary ‘When the Levees Broke’, is usually an unrepentant firebrand. But under pressure, the Brooklyn-raised blowhard folded like a cheap suit and cut the entire controversial 30-minute segment from the project prior to its airing.
I wasn’t granted access to the original version. But having watched the edited, seven-and-a-half-hour, uneven slog of a series that came to a close on Saturday night on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I can report that if truth and accuracy are of prime concern, then there’s about six-and-a-half more hours that needed to be cut from the series, which abounds with disinformation, misinformation and propaganda, none of which has anything to do with 9/11.
‘NYC Epicenters’ is broken down into four episodes, with the first two episodes focusing on a myriad of more current events and the last two on 9/11 itself. Not surprisingly since this is a “Spike Lee joint,” every topic tackled, and there are a lot of them, is deeply marinated in a manufactured racial resentment.
In episodes one and two the story zigs and zags from Covid in China and New York, to Trump’s birtherism, to Covid’s impact on education and restaurants, to Black Lives Matter, to Trump’s charges of election fraud, to ‘kids in cages’, to black vaccine hesitancy, to January 6 and beyond. Spike’s approach to this dizzying array of topics isn’t chronological, rendering it virtually incomprehensible.
Watching episodes one and two is like a Bataan death march where every few steps Lee shouts the phrase “disproportionately affects black and brown people” into your ear for no discernible or coherent reason.
These two episodes are entirely devoid of insights, and are like the scattershot, rancid remnants of a social justice binge barfed into an incoherent hodge-podge of alarmist headlines.
Adding to the egregiousness, Spike interjects himself throughout to a remarkably annoying degree by constantly interrupting his subjects and yelling at them to “say it again” when they’ve made a point with which he agrees.
Lee also peppers the program with Spike-isms, like calling ground zero “Da Pile” and Brooklyn “Da People’s Republic of Brooklyn” and referring to Obama as President Barack “Bruddah Man” Obama and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as “Papa Joe” and “Sistah Kamala.” He also dubs Trump “Agent Orange” or “Der Fuhrer and Il Duce”. I’m a native-born son of “Da People’s Republic of Brooklyn” and loathe “Agent Orange” more than most, but even I found the Hitler and Mussolini comparisons sophomoric and shallow.
With help from his friends in the mainstream media, like Van Jones and Al Sharpton, Spike also vomits out the usual vacuous establishment talking points, like blaming Trump for the moral atrocity of “kids in cages” at the border while ignoring “Bruddah Man” Obama’s complicity in that crime.
He also blames anti-Asian violence on white supremacy and Trump’s rhetoric, even going so far as to show a white man assault an Asian woman, and putting up the white man’s mug shot. But then without explanation or identification of the race of the assailant, we’re shown a series of murky videos where black people assault Asians.
Spike also regurgitates the MSM’s misinformation about the “Central Park Karen” story. That story is told by Christopher Cooper, the black bird watcher in Central Park who videotaped a white woman calling the cops on him. The media destroyed this woman, Amy Cooper (no relation), dubbing her the Central Park Karen. Spike does the same, intentionally ignoring much deeper reporting that puts some desperately-needed context and nuance into the situation.
Spike also declares that all the violence and looting at Black Lives Matter protests was a result of outside “instigators.” And yet, he holds up the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer by militia men as proof of right-wing, white supremacist nefariousness, while ignoring the fact that it’s claimed the FBI were deeply involved in the inception of that kidnap plot.
Lee’s rabid partisanship blinds him to the obvious, that “instigators” may very well have sabotaged both BLM protests AND right-wing protests.
This possibility also never occurs to Spike regarding January 6 either, which he obscenely labels as being equivalent to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Using a deceptive graphic of those “killed by the Insurrection” is the piece de resistance of deceptive propaganda.
As for the last two episodes of the series, they’re rather standard and occasionally effective 9/11 reminiscences, but they too are peppered with a tedious hyper-racialism.
It’s unfortunate that even when finally focusing on 9/11, racial grievances are given the spotlight when the cataclysmic wars and the rescue workers stricken by deadly cancer afterwards are given short shrift.
The bottom line is that this nearly eight-hour, ego-driven extravaganza could have and should have been whittled down to a taut one hour, stripped of its incorrigible identity politics and solely focused on 9/11, with all of the modern-day political pandering, posturing and propagandizing left on the cutting room floor. But if that were to happen, then it wouldn’t be a “Spike Lee joint.” We should be so lucky…