Posted on Friday, August 13th, 2021 by Joshua Meyer
We’re coming up on the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks next month, and in the lead-up to it, HBO is broadcasting a four-part Spike Lee documentary entitled NYC EPICENTERS 9/11 -> 2021½.
WarnerMedia has issued a press release announcing that NYC EPICENTERS 9/11 -> 2021½ will air over the course of four weekends, beginning on Sunday, August 22, continuing the next two Sundays, and ending on Saturday, September 11, 2021. The four-part docuseries seeks to form a mosaic of New York City as it “deals with some of the most life-changing events of the last twenty years.” According to the press release:
Beginning with the ongoing global pandemic and the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement, Lee traverses through time to the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11. This provocative series is an epic chronicle of life, loss and survival in what Lee calls “the greatest city on this God’s earth.”
NYC EPICENTERS 9/11 -> 2021½ “features first-hand accounts from residents of all walks of life, including first responders, politicians and journalists.” Lee conducted over 200 interviews with such well-known figures as Jon Stewart, Rosie Perez, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Chuck Schumer, Bill De Blasio, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ron Kim, Mondaire Jones, Stacey Plaskett, Ritchie Torres, and Muriel Bowser, as well as NYFD members, machine operators from Ground Zero, engineers and architects, news anchors and reporters, and medical professionals like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Ian Lipkin, and Dr. Fritz Francois.
One person you won’t be hearing from is New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, who just resigned in disgrace this week amid a sexual harassment scandal.
A Documentarian’s Sensibility
Lee scored his biggest box office hit in 2006 with Inside Man, but he struggled to secure financing for some of his films after that, even turning to crowd-funding on Kickstarter at one point. In 2018, he made a comeback with BlacKkKlansman, which won him his first Oscar — for Best Adapted Screenplay — and earned him his first Best Director nomination. Like many great directors, he still hasn’t won and was snubbed for even a nomination before that.
The movie’s ending famously juxtaposed a flaming cross and a circle of Ku Klux Klan members with footage of a torch-wielding mob at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Virginia. Lee followed this up with footage of the real David Duke, the KKK Grand Wizard played by Topher Grace in the film, speaking at the rally. This bled into footage of the Charlottesville car attack, as the movie drew a direct line between America’s past and the present.
Many of Lee’s films have interwoven real archival footage with dramatizations, displaying a documentarian’s sensibility while taking artistic license with historical events. He’s also directed plenty of documentaries and has an established working relationship with HBO on some of them, such as When the Levees Broke. As a Brooklyn native who got his start filming the borough in She’s Gotta Have It and Do the Right Thing, Lee has a personal connection to New York and, arguably, no filmmaker is better suited to explore the last two decades of its fraught history.
NYC EPICENTERS 9/11 -> 2021½ premieres on HBO on August 22, 2021, and will be available to stream on HBO Max.
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