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Behind the Scenes with Spike Lee’s 9/11 Tribute

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - 02:15 PM

Spike Lee, the director, gave some children from P.S. 8 in Brooklyn and P.S. 22 in Staten Island (and a few others) starring roles last weekend in a commercial he did for State Farm that featured a tribute to 9/11. Although the superstar of the commercial is clearly New York, N.Y.

The commercial shows school children making their way throughout New York City, singing the song “Empire State of Mind,’’ the Alicia Keys song written by Jay-Z, the rapper and hip hop artist. They stop in front of a firehouse, where they continue singing their song. At the end, the firefighters lift some of the children up in the air, while others wipe tears from their eyes.

Mr. Lee, a Brooklyn native and a product of the public schools, points out in a behind-the-scenes video that he thought it was “brilliant’’ that the commercial features children, “many of who were born after 9/11.’’ The piece, he says, is a tribute to New York.

“We were down on the canvas on 9/11,’’ he says. “We weren’t knocked out, and we picked ourselves up, put our arms on the rope and got back up.’’

Some of the children were members of P.S. 22's chorus. That's the chorus that went to the Academy Awards last year, and is still living off the after-Oscar glow.

There were children from other schools too. Seth Phillips, principal at P.S. 8, said Mr. Lee, who attended the school as a child, contacted the school’s P.T.A. this summer to ask if fifth graders would be available for the commercial. Mr. Lee has worked with the school before. The school agreed, and about 15 children, including some who had just graduated, spent a few days in August filming in the Brooklyn area, from a firehouse to the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Our kids are the ones you see right at the beginning walking to the Brooklyn Bridge,’’ Mr. Phillips said. “It was a good time for them, and they were paid.’’

Mr. Phillips said his daughter, Claire, who is 9 and attends P.S. 29, also took part in the filming.

“It was a pretty tasteful, well-done commercial,’’ he said.

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