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Crooklyn poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySpike Lee
Screenplay byJoie Susannah Lee
Cinqué Lee
Spike Lee
Story byJoie Susannah Lee
Produced bySpike Lee
CinematographyArthur Jafa
Edited byBarry Alexander Brown
Music byTerence Blanchard
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • May 13, 1994 (1994-05-13)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$14 million[1]
Box office$13,642,861[1]

Crooklyn is a 1994 American semi-autobiographical film produced and directed by Spike Lee and co-written with his sister Joie and brother Cinqué. Occurring in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, during the summer of 1973,[2] the film primarily focuses on a young girl named Troy Carmichael (played by Zelda Harris), and her family. Throughout the film, Troy learns life lessons through her rowdy brothers Clinton, Wendell, Nate, and Joseph; her loving but strict mother Carolyn (Alfre Woodard), and her naive, struggling father Woody (Delroy Lindo).

A distinctive characteristic of Crooklyn is its soundtrack, composed completely of music from the 1960s and 70s, except the hit single "Crooklyn" by the Crooklyn Dodgers, a rap crew composed of Buckshot, Masta Ace, and Special Ed. A two-volume release of the soundtrack became available on CD along with the release of the film.

Similarly to his past films such as School Daze, Do the Right Thing, and She's Gotta Have It, Spike Lee appears in Crooklyn, playing a young glue huffer named Snuffy, who likes to bully the local children.

Crooklyn is the second of only two films directed by Spike Lee to earn a PG-13 rating in the USA, along with Malcolm X.

New Yorkers selected the film for simultaneous screenings across New York City as part of the 2017 One Film, One New York contest.


In 1973, nine-year-old Troy Carmichael and her brothers Clinton, Wendell, Nate, and Joseph live in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn with their parents Woody, a struggling musician, and Carolyn, a schoolteacher. The neighborhood is filled with colorful characters, such as the Carmichaels' next-door neighbor Tony Eyes, whose house emits the foul smell of dog feces; Tommy La-La, who continuously sings and plays his electric keyboard; glue sniffers Snuffy and Right Hand Man; and war veteran Vic Powell, who lives upstairs from the Carmichaels.

One day, the Carmichael children get into an argument with Tony after he witnesses Wendell throwing trash into his area, which escalates when Carolyn and several neighborhood children get involved and is defused when Vic comes downstairs and then punches Tony in the face. Troy, who has sneaked out to the corner store, sees Vic getting arrested as she leaves the store.

One night, Woody and Carolyn argue about money; Carolyn resents Woody for not appreciating their financial situation and using their money carelessly to fund his solo career. The argument escalates as Carolyn yells for the children to turn off the television, before later turning it off herself.

Clinton turns his back on Carolyn and she grabs him for disobeying. Woody then grabs her and carries her out of the room. Woody carries Carolyn out of the room and down the stairs and Nate jumps on Woody's back. The other children hold Carolyn and Carolyn hurts her ankle in the struggle.

Carolyn kicks Woody out of the house, but Woody later brings flowers to Carolyn and the two reconcile. The family then decides to go on a trip, but as they are leaving, a worker from Con Ed arrives to shut off the electricity due to an unpaid bill, postponing the trip and forcing the family to use candles for light.

A few days later, the family travels to the South to stay with affluent relatives. Troy stays with her cousin, Viola, who was adopted by Uncle Clem and Aunt Song. Troy has fun with Viola despite disliking her snobby Aunt Song and her dog, Queenie. On Troy's tenth birthday, she gets a letter from Carolyn. After reading the letter and dealing with constant bickering between Viola and Aunt Song, Troy decides she wants to go home.

When Troy returns to New York, her Aunt Maxine and Uncle Brown pick her up at the airport. Troy later learns her mother is in the hospital and is taken to see her.

Later that evening, Woody tells the kids that their mother has cancer and must stay in the hospital. The boys cry, but Troy remains stoic. Troy then begins filling in the mother role, while Carolyn remains in the hospital but later dies.

Aftwards, one of Troy's brothers wonders if they have to dress up for their mother's funeral. On the day of the funeral, Troy's Aunt Maxine coaxes her into trying on the new clothes she's brought, telling her it would make Carolyn proud. Troy calmly explains that her mother hates polyester and would never let her wear it then announces to Woody that she is not going to the funeral. After Woody explains that Carolyn would want them all together at church, Troy acquiesces.

At the house gathering after the funeral, Troy is withdrawn. Joseph comes inside crying, saying that Snuffy and Right Hand Man robbed him. Following her mother's wishes to protect her younger brother, Troy goes outside with a baseball bat and hits Snuffy, telling him to go sniff glue on his own block.

Early the next morning, Troy dreams she's hearing her mother's voice. She goes downstairs to see her father trying to kill a rat in the kitchen. Woody then tells her that it is all right to cry, saying that even Clinton has cried. Troy concludes that it is good that her mother's suffering has ended.

As the summer ends, the Carmichael family and their friends resume their lives. Troy assumes the matriarch role that Carolyn left behind. Carolyn's spirit continues to visit Troy, praising her for taking on such responsibilities.


In addition, RuPaul makes his feature film debut playing Connie, a woman customer dancing with another customer at the bodega. While co-screenwriter and actor Joie Susannah Lee is shown in the opening credits as one of the actors, she does not appear in the cast closing credits scroll, though she does appear in the filmmakers closing credits scroll.

Development and production[edit]

Spike Lee was signed to a multiyear deal with Universal Studios, giving them the first look at buying any of his films, and in March 1993 they approved production for Crooklyn, which would be the first one made under this deal.[3] Lee co-wrote the script with two of his siblings, basing the story of the mother's illness on their own life experience. Zelda Harris was cast for the role of Troy through an open audition process. For the music in the film, Lee picked all the songs himself, choosing ones from his childhood.[2] The filming took place on location in New York, including Fort Greene Park.[3][2]

During the scenes of the film that take place in the South, the shots were filmed with an anamorphic lens in such a way to give a squeezed appearance, illustrating the alienated feelings Troy was having in a place very strange to her. During the original run of the film, audience members were confused by these squeezed images, assuming there was some kind of technical error, so the studio put up signs in the theaters to explain the effect was intentional.[4]

Release and reception[edit]

Crooklyn premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival on May 12, 1994.[5] It was released to theaters in May 1994, and debuted at number three at the box office.[2][6]

When the film was released, Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "Messy as the semiautobiographical Crooklyn often is, it succeeds in becoming a touching and generous family portrait, a film that exposes welcome new aspects of this director's talent."[7] Variety's Todd McCarthy called the film "both annoying and vibrant, casually plotted and deeply personal," adding that it "ends up being as compelling as it is messy".[8] Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars, stating, "Lee's wonderful opening title sequence shows the children's street games that flourished in Brooklyn in the 1970s. Today, he says, those games have died, and he had to teach them to the actors who played the children. They have died because the kids in comparable neighborhoods today are afraid to go outside and play in the streets. Crooklyn is not in any way an angry film. But thinking about the difference between its world and ours can make you angry, and I think that was one of Lee's purposes here."[9]

In a 2018 Variety article looking back on Lee's filmography, Joe Leydon ranked Crooklyn at ninth place: "At once street smart and sweetly sentimental, this warmly nostalgic coming-of-age drama could be described as a Spike Lee movie for people who normally dislike Spike Lee movies."[10] As of April 2022, Crooklyn holds a rating of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 32 reviews. The site's consensus reads, "A personal project that warmly reflects on Spike Lee's childhood, Crooklyn is an episodic celebration of family and the inedible facets of one's hometown".[11]


Year-end lists[edit]


In the 2017 "One Film, One New York" contest, New Yorkers selected the film for free, simultaneous screenings across all five New York City boroughs.[16]


  1. ^ a b "Crooklyn (1994) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Clark, Ashley (September 12, 2017). "Spike Lee Looks Back on Crooklyn". Vulture. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Marx, Andy (March 3, 1993). "Lee gets a go for 'Crooklyn'". Variety. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  4. ^ Murphy, Mekado (August 2, 2018). "How Spike Lee Created Three Signature Visual Shots". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  5. ^ Harvey, Dennis (April 8, 1994). "Lee, Sayles pix to world preem at S.F. Fest". Variety. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  6. ^ Fox, David J. (May 16, 1994). "'The Crow' Takes Off at Box Office Movies: The opening is the biggest ever for Miramax. In second place is 'When a Man Loves a Woman,' with 'Crooklyn' third". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  7. ^ Maslin, Janet (May 13, 1994). "Review/Film: A Tender Domestic Drama From, No Joke, Spike Lee". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  8. ^ McCarthy, Todd (May 9, 1994). "Lee Gets Personal in 'Crooklyn'". Variety. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 13, 1994). "Crooklyn". Retrieved November 11, 2019.
  10. ^ Leydon, Joe (August 10, 2019). "Spike Lee's 10 Best Movies Ranked". Variety. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  11. ^ "Crooklyn (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  12. ^ Craft, Dan (December 30, 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.
  13. ^ King, Dennis (December 25, 1994). "SCREEN SAVERS In a Year of Faulty Epics, The Oddest Little Movies Made The Biggest Impact". Tulsa World (Final Home ed.). p. E1.
  14. ^ Dudek, Duane (December 30, 1994). "1994 was a year of slim pickings". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 3.
  15. ^ Hurley, John (December 30, 1994). "Movie Industry Hit Highs and Lows in '94". Staten Island Advance. p. D11.
  16. ^ Goodman, Stephanie (September 6, 2017). "'Crooklyn' Wins the One Film, One New York Contest". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.

External links[edit]