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Crooklyn

Movie review by
Lynnette Nicholas, Common Sense Media
Crooklyn Movie Poster Image
Nuanced depiction of a black family in Brooklyn; language.
  • PG-13
  • 1994
  • 115 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Shows the importance of family unity, the need for balance in the distribution of home and family responsibilities within a family, as well as the positive effects of having a strong family matriarch. The family here is far from perfect, but the parents allow their kids to have flaws and be themselves. The parents don't sugarcoat reality for their kids. Though one parent is strict at times, she also gives them space to breathe. Prevalent themes of cultural identity, a strong sense of community, resilience, courage, and unity are present. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Troy's story is one of growth. After the loss of a parent, she learns resilience and the beauty of embracing responsibility  Carolyn is an example of a selfless mother who has inner strength and tenacity. Despite often having a financial burden, she manages to always keep her kids fed and also provides unique experiences for them. While at times dysfunctional, the Carmichaels are a unique, creative, and loving family that show that it's okay to be flawed.

Violence

A man punches another man. In a dream, Troy beats a man over the head with a baseball bat and the man's head bleeds. An older girl fights with Troy outside of a grocery store. Troy urinates in her brother's room while she sleepwalks. Parents argue in front of their kids aggressively (though parents don't literally fight with each other), and occasionally swear at their kids. A child is bullied. Death of a parent.

Sex

In one scene at the grocery store, a cross-dressing man dances provocatively with another man and says, "I ain't no puta," as 9-yr old Troy watches. Later in the movie, Troy relives the scene, while jumping on a bed. A young girl examines her chest beneath her blouse, and later stuffs her bra with toilet paper to create the appearance of breasts.

Language

 The "N" word' is used four times. Additionally, words like "ass," "s--t," and "black bastard" are used. There are phrases such as "get your penis at attention" and "can't take a piss without 6 people on my t-ts" used. There's some bantering among siblings, name-calling, and insults.

Consumerism

There's a Trix Cereal Box that's highly visible, and many references to the Knicks.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two young men in the neighborhood get high by sniffing glue. Troy has a dream that she's forced to get high by sniffing glue by two neighbors.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Crooklyn is a semi-autobiographical comedy and drama directed by Spike Lee and centers on a vibrant African American family living in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. It’s a candid depiction of life for a family that has real-life issues like financial strain, being a one-income household, stressed parents, and smart, rambunctious kids who have some sibling rivalry and constantly bicker with one another. The childhood of a brilliant, young black girl’s childhood is interrupted with the unexpected passing of a parent. A child is bullied, and there are a few fights, but no major violence, blood, or gore. Language includes the "N" word, "t-ts," ass," "s--t," and "black bastard." Two young men in the neighborhood get high by sniffing glue. There are positive messages of courage, resilience, and growth (a young girl comes into her own at a time of great loss), and there's a strong sense of community depicted.

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What's the story?

CROOKLYN is a colorful semi-autobiographical portrait of a schoolteacher named Carolyn (Alfre Woodard), her jazz musician husband Woody (Delroy Lindo), who is financially irresponsible, and their five kids living in Brooklyn in 1973. While not the best provider for Carolyn and the family, Woody loves his wife and kids. The movie centers on Carolyn as the matriarch of the family and 9-yr old Troy (Zelda Harris), who is forced to learn lessons from her four brothers, her mother, and the choices of her father.

Is it any good?

This film provides a candid, transparent, and culturally-rich perspective of black girlhood in a way that's not glamorized, stereotypical, or caricatured. With a screenplay written by a trio of black writers who happen to be family, and a semi-autobiographical story written by Joie Lee, the storyline offers a genuine glimpse into the everyday life of an African American family living in Brooklyn in the 1970s. Crooklyn provides an endearing and raw glimpse of many of the cultural norms and societal undercurrents present in the lives of a family during a very critical time in America’s history. The Carmichaels are a vibrant, intelligent, and at times uncouth household that showcase the unspoken burdens of the black female matriarch in ways that are real, relatable, and culturally-sensitive without erasing the authenticity of those experiences.

The layered dynamics of the family are clearly delineated. Carolyn as an overworked, underpaid teacher and mom clearly depicts the resilience and oftentimes burden that black women carry within the family unit. Troy brings a vivaciousness and wisdom beyond her years to the narrative. Her stepping into the legacy of the forthcoming matriarch of the family is evident in the inner strength and stoic nature that she exudes after the loss of a parent. Though a child, she doesn't shrink from the responsibility and courage that it takes to be the woman of the house. As she steps into her mother’s legacy with great strength and poise even in her youth, there’s great symbolism that echoes and reflects the experiences of so many young girls and women in African American communities.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the dynamics of a family in Crooklyn. What's the definition of a family, and how do the dynamics of a family change depending on different cultures? Does a person’s culture affect their role in a family? 

  • Does the history and culture of a family affect the roles of the different genders within a family? How does the history of treatment toward women apply to this movie? In a marriage, is it the man's responsibility to provide for the family?

  • What character strengths do the female characters in the movie display? How does the movie promote courage, perseverance, and communication?

  • How does the film portray the communication within this family? What role does communication play in your family?

  • In what ways does conflict make the characters in the family stronger? In what ways does Carolyn show strength? In what ways does Troy show strength?

Movie details

Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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