Spike Lee on his new 9/11 documentary: Fire can't melt steel

I saw this because Sonny Bunch highlighted it on Twitter. Today the NY Times published an interview with director Spike Lee about his new documentary project on HBO which is titled “NYC Epicenters: 9/11 – 2021 ½.” The documentary is an 8-hour-long collection of interviews that look at some of the similarities between 9/11 and the coronavirus pandemic, especially the loss of life that some New Yorkers experienced in each incident.

Each of the episodes covers different topics. The last episode includes interviews with a 9/11 truther group called Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. At the very end of the piece, the interviewer, who is a Times’ pop culture reporter, asked Lee about why he included them:

The last episode of the series devotes a lot of time to questioning how and why the towers fell. You interview several members of the conspiracy group Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. Why did you want to include their perspective?

Because I still don’t … I mean, I got questions. And I hope that maybe the legacy of this documentary is that Congress holds a hearing, a congressional hearing about 9/11.

You don’t buy the official explanations?

The amount of heat that it takes to make steel melt, that temperature’s not reached. And then the juxtaposition of the way Building 7 fell to the ground — when you put it next to other building collapses that were demolitions, it’s like you’re looking at the same thing. But people going to make up their own mind. My approach is put the information in the movie and let people decide for themselves. I respect the intelligence of the audience.

Fire can’t melt steel is such a discredited and dumb argument that it’s surprising anyone is still willing to utter it. In any case, Lee’s “I got questions” approach to 9/11 trutherism is obviously at odds with his approach to other topics covered by the documentary. The interview ends with the author pointing that out and Lee dodging the question.

Right, but you don’t say “make up your own mind” about whether or not the vaccine is poison, or “make up your own mind” about whether Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

People are going to think what they think, regardless. I’m not dancing around your question. People are going to think what they think. People have called me a racist for “Do the Right Thing.” People said in “Mo’ Better Blues” I was antisemitic. “She’s Gotta Have It,” that was misogynist. People are going to just think what they think. And you know what? I’m still here, going on four decades of filmmaking.

Yeah, he really didn’t have a good answer for that.

Elsewhere, Variety’s review of Lee’s documentary calls this “a tangent.” That’s one way to put it I guess. Another way to put it is that it’s a public embarrassment that HBO is choosing to air 9/11 conspiracy theories on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Lee is free to believe whatever garbage he wants but HBO didn’t have to fund it or to air it. The same review suggests Lee also loses the thread in the second episode about “the insurrection.”

At its most confusing (episode 2 on … the insurrection?), it strays into barely related sidebars — almost always related to Trump — that quickly lose sight of what makes the series most powerful…

The first episode at least has the through line of detailing the pandemic’s immediate onset and aftermath; the second, unsure of what else to say, quickly loses the plot in favor of becoming yet another treatise on Why Trump Is Bad.

This chapter, airing Aug. 29, is wildly scattered to the point of becoming bizarre as Lee takes pains to connect most everything back to Trump (whom he exclusively refers to as “President Agent Orange”). At one point, he even takes the opportunity of interviewing various New York congresspeople — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — to do a deep dive into the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol that lasts almost a full half hour. Here, what began as a love letter to New York City suddenly becomes something else entirely.

I guess someone had to fill the space vacated by Michael Moore and Lee seems to be doing his best to be that person.