Crooklyn (1994)

Crooklyn is Spike Lee’s 1994 semi-autobiographical family drama, which takes place primarily on one block in Brooklyn. In previous films, especially Do The Right Thing, there are sequences involving children. In this film, Lee decided to do an entire movie primarily from a kid’s perspective.

The film’s three primary stars are Alfre Woodard as mother Carolyn, Delroy Lindo as father Woody, and Zelda Harris as daughter Troy. The story covers the struggles, triumphs, and tragedies of a family of five based loosely on Spike Lee’s own childhood.

Woody is a determined jazz musician who struggles to find work due to his refusal to compromise and play popular music. Carolyn, a school teacher and hard working mother, must balance a career with keeping her family disciplined. Troy, the only girl in the family, plays peacemaker with her parents while coming to terms with her own self-image.

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Crooklyn (1994) Directed by Spike Lee Shown from left: Christopher Knowings, Delroy Lindo, Sharif Rashed, Alfre Woodard, Zelda Harris, Carlton Williams, Tse-Mach Washington

One of the best parts of the movie is the soundtrack. Featuring all songs of the 60’s and 70’s, Spike Lee took full advantage of the opportunity to display his love for two great decades of music. One memorable moment that comes to mind is Troy walking out of a convenient store to the song Hey Joe. As she approaches her home, the families roommate Vic (played by Isaiah Washington) is being placed into the back of a police car after an altercation with their neighbor.

This brings me to one of the more questionable elements of the film. The family and neighborhood are constantly feuding with eccentric resident “Tony Eyes” (played by David Patrick Kelly). He is constantly berated about his houses odor and accused of throwing trash around. At various times Tony is confronted by children and adults, leading to violence in the previously mentioned instance with Vic. My feeling is that he is probably based on Spike’s own life experiences. Either way, it’s a bit of a strange character who ultimately does not develop into much.

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Similar to that is Spike Lee’s own glue huffing character known as Snuffy. His limited role makes a bit more sense near the end of the film. I won’t divulge the final interaction as it would be a spoiler.

A particularly interesting sequence takes place when Troy goes to live with her Aunt and Uncle south of New York. These scenes illustrate interesting differences between African American communities both geographically and financially. I don’t feel qualified to attest to the accuracy of this, however, I trust Spike Lee as a director. Ultimately, this is up to viewers on an individual basis.

Without giving away any specifics, the conclusion of the film is both sad and uplifting. Spike Lee could’ve easily made this film and focused on one of the male characters, reflecting himself as a child. Instead he painted an incredibly mature and nuanced picture of a girl facing some of life’s most difficult challenges. Even with questionable moments, Crooklyn was an incredibly enjoyable viewing experience. Between an endless chain of great songs and very tender realistic relationships, this film balances fun with a heartfelt emotional core.

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As I round out a month of Spike Lee, this is yet another highly recommended viewing. I hope those that have followed my journey with Spike enjoyed his work just as much as I have. Stay tuned for an upcoming month of films directed by women.

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