The Root Interview: Spike Lee, Part Two

The director talks about a missed opportunity with David Simon’s Treme, gentrification and why so many black politicians are in trouble right now.

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Getty Images

The Root: Have you visited some of the new developments they’ve put up in place of the old public-housing projects?

Lee: We went through what used to be the St. Bernard projects. I mean, gentrification is a motherfucker. Now they’re trying to say Bedford-Stuyvesant is Stuyvesant Heights (laughs). That’s Bed-Stuy! Do or Die! Don’t come with this real estate realtor shit-you going to rename the neighborhood, so that you can attract more white people there. It’s the same thing here. They’re not even calling it St. Bernard’s. They are going to change the street name, too. There’s no mention of St. Bernard anymore. What’s the guy’s name, [former HUD Secretary] Alphonso Jackson-this whole mixed-income thing, I just think it doesn’t happen. They knock down these inner-city dwellings under the guise of progress, under the guise of multi-mixed-income stuff, but how many of those poor people move into these new buildings that they build? I would say a very low percentage.

The people have to move out of the places here, and in Bed-Stuy, Ft. Greene, Harlem; places in Chicago, but where do those people go? No one has ever come up with the answer to: Where do poor blacks, poor Hispanics live in these so-called, new, hot neighborhoods? When they can’t afford the rents anymore where do they go? I think that from Obama down this issue of affordable housing is a major issue. People can’t afford to live here. And it’s coupled with the white flight to suburbia. They ran to the suburbs, and people got tired of commuting four and five hours–oh and add D.C. to it now. D.C. ain’t Chocolate City anymore. When George Clinton, Parliament Funkadelic had that song–that’s not true today.

The Root: HBO is also here for David Simon’s (The Wire) new series Treme. Have you had a chance to talk with him while here?

Lee: No, but they wanted me to direct the pilot of Treme. We couldn’t work out the schedule. But I’m happy that Wendell Pierce is in it. To me, The Wire is one of the best shows ever on television, so I have no doubt that it’s going to be great. The series hopefully will get the numbers that the show deserves. I have faith in David Simon and that he will be true to the material, true to Treme, true to the city and true to the period it takes place in, which is post-Katrina, and the struggle that people are having to get their lives back on track.

Brentin Mock is a reporter for the New Orleans investigative reporting news Web site The Lens.

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