Memo Pad: Nina, Chapter Three Of?... Voluntary, or Not...

The Nina Garcia story is turning into the Energizer bunny of reality TV - it just won’t quit.

In the anniversary spirit, let’s go to the archive. Denby critiqued what he saw as the film’s “mixed-up” message about racism and violence, and wrote that Lee was “playing with dynamite in an urban playground. The response to the movie could get away from him….If some audiences go wild, he’s partly responsible.” Klein’s column focused on how “Do the Right Thing” could affect the upcoming mayoral election, in which David Dinkins was challenging incumbent Ed Koch: “If Lee does hook large black audiences, there’s a good chance the message they take from the film will increase racial tensions in the city. If they react violently — which can’t be ruled out — the candidate with the most to lose will be David Dinkins.” (Dinkins won five months later.) Klein speculated that white liberals would be “debating the meaning of Spike Lee’s message. Black teenagers won’t find it so hard, though….If black kids act on what they see, Lee may have destroyed his career.”

Reached last Wednesday, Klein remembered the affair well. “I said that within minutes after the words hit the page that it was a stupid thing to write,” he said, adding that he believed New York had run an item to that effect. He even appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” with Lee in a segment Klein described as “pretty confrontational.” The transcript of that appearance shows Winfrey repeatedly asking both the audience and guests to let others finish and to stay respectful. Lee and Klein, formerly neighbors in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, sparred several times.

Notwithstanding the retraction, Klein argues that the controversy actually did Lee some good: “I made him a lot of money….It was kind of his breakout film and my mistake was an easy mark for people who wanted to celebrate him.”

Overall, he was philosophical. “When you write a weekly column, you are guaranteed to say stupid things once in awhile. I’ve had others since. Who knows, maybe what I’m closing today is going to be seen as stupid,” Klein said.

Denby had no comment. — I.C.
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