Crooklyn

Celebrating Black Women

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One of the more frustrating things about Lee’s filmography this semester has been his treatment of black women. Going from film to film, he often reifies and reinforces the kinds of negative stereotypes about black women that plague the media and the popular American social imagination: hypersexual black women, angry black women, deviant black women. Rarely do the women in his films get to be at the center of attention for anything other than their bodies, and when they do, rarely do they get to push back against the limited and limiting spaces Lee puts them in. Chi-Raq promised so much, putting Lysistrata front and center on posters, on-screen, and in the plot, and then fell so far: Strata’s body and sexuality were featured as her most important attributes for a long time, the site of her power only her vagina and the denial of access to it.

Crooklyn was, in this respect, a breath of fresh air – focusing on Troy and her childhood, her subjectivity, her girlhood – and I can’t help but wonder how much of that was influenced by Joie Lee being one of the co-writers of the script, and Spike Lee a producer. I would say more, but Dani over on Blog 4 has written a beautiful post on why Troy and Crooklyn matter, and I encourage everyone to read it.

I also encourage everyone – and here I come to my main goal in this post – go to watch Lemonade. If, like me, you have grown frustrated about Lee’s portrayal of black women, or if you’re curious about what a raw, powerful, redemptive, honest, urgent, reclaiming, and human look at black women would be like, please go look at Lemonade. I could go on and on, but frankly I am not the person to speak about Lemonade – please click on any of the articles I linked to in the previous sentence, where amazing black women have written highly important pieces about it (thoughtful, potent engagements and critiques) – and please, if you can, go watch it (on Tidal’s free trial, because I know we’re all broke college students) for yourselves.

Crooklyn | Representations of Melancholia and Mourning

Professor Parham’s elucidation of the differences between melancholia and mourning during class on Tuesday brought me back to a Crooklyn character I was still struggling to understand. We’ve briefly touched on the role of the messy downstairs neighbor, Tony, throughout the film, but his overlooked return in the final scene points to his importance.

Tony’s appearances are sporadic throughout the film, but he reappears in the crucial ending sequence when Troy is seen leaving the house to attend her mother’s funeral. The neighbor’s subtle presence in this shot does point to the notion that his character might have been used to foreshadow the film’s ending. His earlier dialogue referencing his deceased mother creates an unfortunate eeriness surrounding his presence in the shot, but also serves as a way to tie up the loose ends of his role.

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(Sorry for the blurry screenshot!)

However, I don’t think his presence can be merely reduced to an opportunity for foreshadowing. In considering melancholia versus mourning, it becomes apparent that the neighbor represents melancholia while Troy’s grief (along with rest of the family’s) can be characterized as mourning. I found this short blog post that neatly sums up Freud’s points about mourning vs. melancholia. Tony is trapped in a cycle due to his loss. His house stays messy and he fails to interact and engage with the rest of the neighborhood. The loss consumes him.

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Troy, however, copes with the loss in a healthy way. We see the family and the neighborhood thrive with her at the heart of both. Freud’s mourning is marked by a “free and uninhibited” ego, and the closing scenes signify this transition for Troy. She has recognized the absence of her mother, but isn’t trapped by this loss. It’s undoubtedly sad that a tragic loss forces her to “grow up” so quickly, but after recognizing it she reaches the state of mourning Freud describes.

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Would love to hear what you all have to say about this. Am I simplifying it too much? Any other interpretations of Tony’s role?

Crooklyn | Ooh Child

As we rewatched the final scenes in Crooklyn today, I started to take note of how the soundtrack complemented and in some ways, drove the scenes it accompanied . In particular, the scenes set to The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child” were particularly powerful. These scenes were the most emotional for me, as I was caught between feeling pride and admiration for Troy’s strength, but also a deep sorrow for this young child who just suffered an irreparable loss. The uplifting lyrics, combined with an upbeat snare and choir-like singing, juxtaposed next to the despair of the events just reiterated Troy’s loss. The idea of things “getting easier, brighter” were so hard to stomach because I didn’t want Troy to have to understand what it was like to need this kind of hope so early on in her life.

It starts as she shoulders the responsibility of “her mother’s happiness” by being coerced into getting dressed for her mother’s funeral. The camera slowly pans onto Troy’s reluctant compliance, pouting as she shuffles down the stairs to the car, the lyrics cooing, “Ooh child, things are gonna get easier, ooh child, things’ll get brighter”. The camera imitates the earlier panning after the funeral and again pans slowly onto the entire family huddled, walking out of the church together. The song overwhelms the light conversations that take place after the wedding. As the lyrics proceed to “Some day, yeah, we’ll get it together and we’ll get it all done, some day, when your head is much lighter, some day, yeah, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun, some day” the music plays over the conversation taking place between Woody and Clinton as Woody delegates familial responsibility onto Clinton, reflecting how the conversation was tossed aside. As the eldest, Clinton should have shouldered his mother’s responsibilities, but in reality that responsibility is assumed by Troy.

The most emotional scene connected to this song for me is the next one, when Clinton sits down next to Troy, grabs her hand and holds it. That brief moment of sibling intimacy was a testament to the loyalty and strength within families and made me think of my own brother. Throughout the film Clinton often bullies Troy, calling her a “flat chested wench” and excluding her from activities with the other boys. But in this moment as they’re surrounded by strangers, mourning the loss of their mother, he’s supportive, protective. This compounded with a choir-like singing reminding us of their loss and suffering reduces me to tears every time.

Ooh Child by The Five Stairsteps

Clinton and Troy at the wake

 

 

 

Black Hair: History and Politics| Crooklyn | Malcolm X

A fellow classmate approached me today, after class, because they were genuinely interested in learning more about black hair, in order to better understand the significance of hair in Spike Lee’s films.

I thus thought it would be interesting to do a blog on the history of black hair, the use of black hair as a political statement, the implications of black hair in both Crooklyn and Malcolm X, and a short personal narrative.

(Please bare with me. This blog might seem long, but it’s only because I have embedded a lot of really cool resources 🙂 )

History   

Below is a video that breaks down the history of black hair from pre-to-post slavery. It also encompasses American, Caribbean and African contexts of this history.

Soul Train and Afro Sheen History

Afro History

Conk, Afro, and Jheri Curl:

Also, check out Malcolm X’s passage on the Conk, in the Implications section below!

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Crooklyn: Carolyn Appreciation Post

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As Professor Drabinski mentioned in class on Thursday, Crooklyn seems to be one of the favorite films we’ve watched so far. Despite the tears it caused by the end, this sentiment holds true for me, too. As I watched, I tried to figure out what was causing this response. The interactions between the kids were definitely a large component. The soundtrack was also an enjoyable element. But, our discussion on Tuesday and Thursday paired with some reflection revealed the true deciding factor: Carolyn.

Carolyn quickly became my favorite character in the film. Troy is definitely one my favorites too, but I felt such deep sympathy for Carolyn accompanied by immense respect for her strength. One moment in particular inspired an awareness of the difficulty of her situation and respect for how she handles and carries herself. There’s a scene at the dinner table where Woody offers the kids cake, but Carolyn has to provide the caveat: They can only have it after they finish their vegetables. This small moment serves as a representation of their distinct relationships with the kids throughout the film. Carolyn is always the disciplinarian, reminding the kids of their responsibilities while Woody provides the source of fun and freedom that the kids enjoy. Carolyn never wavers, though, as she always keeps in mind and only wants what’s ultimately best for the children.

While Carolyn is consistently the enforcer of the house, it’s important to note her constant affection for the kids. She’s sure to discipline them, but is also quick to defend them from outside attacks (as seen in the interaction with the messy neighbor). Even when the kids are at fault, she’ll battle the outsiders that are attempting to disturb her family. Carolyn moves effortlessly through her many roles and it’s sad that her few moments of validation come in moments of deep sadness, such as after the argument with Woody and tragically with her death. The legacy she leaves through Troy serves as a testament to her largely unsung impact and her truly remarkable achievements.

As this NYT review of Crooklyn from its release in 1994 notes, Carolyn’s character is so effective because it “feels real”. What are your thoughts?

Miss Coomish Mimmish

Following “Troy”

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Zelda Harris is the real name of the actor who played Troy in Crooklyn. Because she was my favorite character, I decided to follow up on her to see what she is doing today. Wikipedia did not offer much information on Zelda, however she does have many social media outlets that do: Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Wikipedia said “Harris was born in New York City, New York to Karen and Philip Harris. She has a sister, Kenya. She attended Princeton University, where she was a member of the Class of 2007.” This led me to a link about her sister, Kenya, where I found some very disturbing news.

Once again, police officers were abusing their authority only this time a woman was involved. A pregnant woman to be exact. In 2011, Kenya Harris went to the police station to pick up her son who had been arrested. After waiting five hours, she complained to the officers that she had other children to tend to at home and that she needed her son soon. The officer became upset because he “did not like her tone” and threatened to “slam [Kenya’s] head into the floor” if she didn’t be quiet. She refused to be quiet and he did exactly as he said. Not only did he slam her into the floor, but he threw her in a cell for the night as well. Kenya was denied medical attention and must I remind you she was PREGNANT.

Unfortunately, the story gets worse. Kenya Harris was released from the jail the following day and she immediately went to the hospital. At the hospital she discovered that the excessive force used by the officer resulted in a miscarriage. She sued the police department for $50,000 and punitive damages.

Additionally, does anyone know the significance of the nickname Coomish Mimmish? I tried googling it and I can’t find anything clear or specific.