Television

Spike Lee Did the Right Thing

The revised cut of his 9/11 docuseries no longer exposes viewers to the toxicity of trutherism.

Spike Lee walks out on a stage wearing a suit of rainbow colors.
Spike Lee at the Cannes Film Festival on July 17. Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images

On Monday, the New York Times reported that Spike Lee’s new HBO docuseries, NYC Epicenters 9/11–2021½, featured a significant portion devoted to the conspiracy theories of one of the most pernicious 9/11 truthers.

The series is a chronicle of New York City as the epicenter of major events in American life from the 9/11 attacks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, having reported extensively on the group in question and the 9/11 conspiracy theory movement for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I had to see this portion for myself. I watched the episode in question, the fourth in the four-part series, on Monday evening, and it was sadly what I had feared: a 30-minute seminar on the (repeatedly debunked) lies that three World Trade Center buildings were brought down in a controlled demolition, as part of an inside job.

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On Tuesday morning, I sent a list of questions to HBO about Lee’s views on some of the other ideas espoused in other mediums by the conspiracy theorist Richard Gage, whom Lee interviewed in the episode—such as the notion that military drones, not airliners, struck the Twin Towers; that COVID-19 was a hoax done to “poison” the population with vaccines; and the suggestion that Israel may have been the actual culprit behind the 9/11 attacks. I also asked if Lee would consider excising the entire 30-minute segment from the documentary, so as not to direct people straight into the arms of a lying conspiracist in the midst of a public health crisis.

After I wrote about the issue on Tuesday and publicly requested that the director consider removing the poisonous material from his documentary—and after an ensuing social media firestorm—HBO released a statement from Lee on Wednesday, in which he stated that he had returned to the “editing room” and “respectfully” asked that critics “hold your judgement until you see the FINAL CUT.” HBO then pulled the original version of the episode from its screener site. It remained to be seen whether Lee was simply making alterations to the truther section of the episode or removing it entirely.

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At the 25th hour, Lee seems to have made his decision: HBO sent out an email to critics Thursday, announcing that the screener site was updated with “[t]he final, edited picture lock of NYC EPICENTERS: 9/11→2021½.”

As it stands now, Episode 4 appears to be exactly 30 minutes shorter than the original version that I watched on Monday, coming in at 90 minutes long instead of two hours. Indeed, the entire segment on the 9/11 conspiracy group, and all apparent references to the group, appear to have been excised.

As I noted previously, from what I saw, the rest of the docuseries is a poignant, powerful, and endearing look at the city that Spike Lee loves and how it has continuously not only dealt with the worst trauma imaginable, but thrived in the face of it. Now the lies and nonsense of conspiracy-addled minds will no longer detract from that accomplishment.

Thank you, Spike! It’s nice to see people actually do the right thing.

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