Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Crooklyn”

November 12, 2012  |  
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In 1994, after the release of the expensive, time consuming and controversial Malcolm X, Spike Lee toned it down a bit for his next film Crooklyn. With a young girl playing the protagonist, Troy, the movie would go on to become one of two Spike Lee joints that received a PG 13 rating. And though it was a bit lighter in subject matter, the movie went on to become number 3 in the box office the week it was released.  You know the lines and the comical, tragic and touching plot but we bet you don’t know about these secrets. Check them out.

Delroy Lindo didn’t know about the kids

Though you would never know it from the movie, Delroy Lindo had never worked with children before. And because he didn’t have children of his own at the time, he was intimidated to work with them. Either he really warmed up to the children or he’s a great actor, (well he is a great actor anyway). By the time the movie came out, he seemed like a pro at being a father to those kids.

Where did the idea come from?

In an interview with the LA Times, Spike Lee explained how the script was originally conceived and written by his brother and sister, Cinque and Joie Lee. He told the newspaper that his siblings came to him with an idea and asked him if they knew of anyone who could help them get it made. That’s when Spike told them, he’d make it. Joie later told the The Times, “I gave birth to this project; Spike delivered it.”

Crooklyn was supposed to be a children’s tv show

In that same article Cinque explained that the original script was intended for a recurring children’s show, but lucky for us, that’s not how it panned out. Cinque also told the LA Times Nickelodeon screened a pilot for the series, had it tested with a group of inner-city kids, and gave it thumbs down. It had no hip-hop music, no dancing. It had jazz.”

Falling out with Poppa Lee

In the same interview, the LA Times spoke with both Spike and his father, Bill Lee. Just four years after Spike had his father score Mo’ Better Blues, neither man would speak about the other. Unsurprisingly, Spike wasn’t too quick to air out his family business for the media. But from the details in the story it seemed as if the riff could have stemmed from a couple of things. 1.) Bill Lee’s drug use and subsequently asking Spike for money, which he denied. Or 2.) Bill’s second marriage, to a white woman which occurred, as Spike said before “my mother [was] even cold in her grave.” The relationship was so strained that Spike’s dad didn’t know what the movie was about and his new wife claimed she “wasn’t a Spike Lee fan,” though she was wearing a Do The Right Thing sweatshirt, when she said it. Fortunately, judging from the picture above it would seem that the two reconciled or are at least on speaking terms these days.


What was true and what was not?

When I think of this film, the first thing I think about is the dog, Queenie, popping out of the couch and Aunt Song mourning her death. That woman cared about the dog more than her own daughter.

Since all the Lee siblings have said that the movie was loosely based on their childhood, people often asked Cinque if they really killed that dog. Cinque says that part was definitely fictional but there were other elements of the film that were inspired by real life events, like the eldest son, Clinton, having to decide whether or not he would attend the Knicks game or his father’s concert. Spike spoke about the incident in the LA Times:

“That was the seventh game of the NBA championship in 1970; that’s the game that Willis Reed dragged his leg on the court and the Knicks beat the Lakers. I got one ticket for the game, I got it through my father’s lawyer . . . who lives down the block, who went to school with John Havlicek.”

When the Times asked him if he regretted his decision to skip his father’s concert, this is what he had to say:

“It was unfortunate my father had to schedule a concert . . . but I mean, there would be other concerts; it was only going to be this one championship game. But it . . . I think it hurt (my father). I think it hurt very much. Shoot, when my sister did (the musical) ‘Mule Bone’ on Broadway, their opening night was a night the Chicago Bulls were in town. You know where I was at.”

Budget and shooting

After X, perhaps Spike Lee needed a bit of a break. While X took over two years to end up on screen, cost $80 million and took 80 days to shoot, Crooklyn only cost $15 million and was wrapped in 52 days during the summer.

Where did the kids come from?

At the time, Spike Lee was very vocal about the fact that he didn’t like professional child actors, claiming child actors “stink . . . they’re not natural.” So when it came to casting these roles of all the children, Lee relied heavily on Brooklyn school children.

How did Zelda get the part?

Before she was cast as the protagonist in Spike’s film, people had been telling Zelda Harris for a while that she should be an actress. Though she had appeared on Sesame Street and an episode of “I’ll Fly Away,” in 1994, she told Entertainment Weekly that she was very nervous when she went in for her audition: ‘So scary. All these things were zipping through my head. The devil in me was like, ‘Go ask for his autograph!’ But my own voice was saying, ‘No, no, no. You wanna get this part.” We’re glad she was able to swing it because she truly made that movie. Zelda, who seemed to be pretty wise for a 9 year old, said back in 1994, that she wanted Troy to be remembered: ”In the year 3000, when everybody’s walking around in tinfoil, I want them to remember that girl who was in Crooklyn.”

It’s not quite the year 3,000 yet, but we certainly remember little Troy.

How did Zelda get along with her “Crooklyn brothers”?

In case you were wondering how Zelda got along with her “Crooklyn brothers,” know that they developed a familial type bond by the time shooting wrapped that summer. They all taunted each other. Zelda told Entertainment Weekly that she  spit on her young cast mates, “out-hit them in stickball, and insulted them in ‘dissing contests.’ Carlton Williams, who plays Clinton, kept calling her ”breastless chicken.” She said, ”That got on my nerves because I’m flat-chested. I would’ve punched him but I’ll wait for the premiere.”

Awww, just like a brother to insult your growing body. We love it!

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