Director Spike Lee says he is re-editing the final episode of his new HBO docuseries, following criticism for giving a prominent platform to 9/11 conspiracy theorists.
“I’m Back In The Editing Room And Looking At The Eighth And Final Chapter Of NYC EPICENTERS 9/11➔2021½ . I Respectfully Ask You To Hold Your Judgement Until You See The FINAL CUT. I Thank You,” he wrote in a statement released by HBO on Wednesday.
Connecting the experiences of New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic to those during the Sept. 11 attacks and the immediate aftermath, “NYC EPICENTERS 9/11➔2021½” premiered Sunday and will air in weekly two-hour segments. The fourth and final episode will air on Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks. A preview version of the episode was initially provided to reporters, but then pulled from the site that HBO uses to release screeners.
Lee has faced backlash for prominently featuring interviews with so-called 9/11 “truthers” and seeming to give their views credence in the initial cut of the episode. Calling it “surreal and demoralizing,” Slate editor Jeremy Stahl wrote that Lee’s approach falsely presents “the truth behind 9/11 as an open debate between two equally valid sides.” Stahl also warns that it’s dangerous, because by featuring them in a major, prime-time documentary, Lee and HBO are giving the conspiracy theorists “the biggest and most mainstream platform they’ve ever had, pointing their viewers directly towards a bog of heinously dangerous ideas.”
The inclusion of the 9/11 “truthers” is in stark contrast to the rest of the docuseries, which has earned praise for its comprehensive and poignant approach and explores a lot of very real and legitimate government failures. “NYC EPICENTERS 9/11➔2021½” features more than 200 interviews with a wide range of New Yorkers: elected officials, actors, journalists, activists, health care workers, first responders, survivors and family members of New Yorkers who died of COVID-19 or on Sept. 11. The interviews form a tapestry of collective memory and honor the resilience of New Yorkers through both traumatic events. “NYC EPICENTERS 9/11➔2021½” is vivid, wrenching and difficult to watch, but also heartfelt, empathic and at times humorous.
In an interview with the New York Times’ Reggie Ugwu published Tuesday, Lee defended his use of the conspiracy theories, saying he intended to “let people decide for themselves.” Yet he also said he himself has “questions,” and suggested Congress hold a new hearing on the attacks.
“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,” he said. “My approach is put the information in the movie and let people decide for themselves. I respect the intelligence of the audience.”
When Ugwu pointed out that the documentary does not take the same approach with, for example, anti-vaxxers spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine or supporters of former President Donald Trump who believe the 2020 election was “stolen,” Lee said: “People are going to think what they think, regardless. I’m not dancing around your question. People are going to think what they think.”