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© Universal Pictures
© Universal Pictures

How "Crooklyn" Caught Spike Lee's Kinder Bed-Stuy Spirit

Picture of Graham Fuller
Film Editor
Updated: 8 June 2017
The landmark coming-of-age drama is screening this Friday and Monday at Manhattan’s Metrograph. Residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn will understand if we say you should “do or die” to get tickets.

Crooklyn (1994) is a jumble of dissonant moods. On one hand, Spike Lee’s eighth feature is a noisy, messy, and infectious Brooklyn street film; on the other, it is a dreamy and wistful memoir—but one that’s never overtly sentimental.

It is filtered primarily through the reminiscences of Joie Lee, who scripted the story—with older brother Spike and younger brother Cinqué—about growing up in pre-gentrification 1970s Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Tough love

Zelda Harris plays Troy, a quiet but self-possessed little girl saddled with four brothers and a struggling musician father, Woody (Delroy Lindo), who leaves the breadwinning to his tough-loving schoolteacher wife, Carolyn.

Alfre Woodard’s anchoring performance in the latter role paid homage to the Lees’ mother, Jacquelyn, who died of cancer in 1977. It was she who infused her children with a love of the arts, and also with resilience: the fabled “Bed-Stuy Do or Die” attitude the neighborhood was proud to own before it was infiltrated by crack culture and violence in the mid-1980s.