Spike Lee wrote a visual love letter to the city that never sleeps in his new short film, New York, New York. It comes after his beloved city has been hardest hit in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak that’s killed 21,000 New Yorkers.
The three-and-a-half-minute project begins with eerie shots of somber streets that have been abandoned due to COVID-19 safety restrictions. As Frank Sinatra’s iconic Big Apple anthem, “New York, New York,” plays in the background, the camera embraces landmark after landmark in the city, including the Wall Street subway station, the Oculus, Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel, Junior’s restaurant, the Brooklyn Bridge, the New York Stock Exchange, Grand Central Station and Yankee Stadium. In one gut-wrenching clip, a sign announcing the closing of a playground is flanked by a lone empty swing swaying back and forth.
The beginning’s forlorn shots are replaced with today’s reality. In one scene a Black woman appears in the montage in a glorious head wrap. In another, the infamous Apollo Theater marquee reminds passersby to “be well.”
As Sinatra’s booming vocals go from nostalgic to hopeful, the viewer sees various New York hospitals followed by health care workers determined to reinstate the once bustling metropolis to its usual pace, even if it means risking their lives.
When Lee debuted the film on Instagram last week, he called it a “love letter to its people… Plain and simple.”
Lee added in an interview with Anderson Cooper that he recognizes New Yorkers are dealing with tons of emotions due to the novel coronavirus.
“To be honest, I’m really trying not to dictate what the people should feel…. There are many different feelings there,” Lee said about the film on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.
“It’s bittersweet. It’s painful at the beginning—what you see, there’s nobody there. But at the end of the film, that’s where we see New Yorkers,” continued Lee. “I wouldn’t want to be any other place in the world but here—the epicenter.”