Brooklyn Babylon

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Brooklyn Babylon‘ (2001) by Marc Levin. In Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, where West Indian Rastafarians and other Afro-Americans live next door to the Jewish Lubavitch community, ethnic tensions are high.

After a minor car crash, the headstrong Judah and other Jewish youths who patrol as vigilantes confront Scratch, a mouthy African-American hustler.

Passengers in the cars make eye contact: Sol, a hip-hop musician, songwriter, and artist (Scratch’s friend), and Sara, who is betrothed to Judah but wants to go to college and be on her own. Over the next few days, while Scratch and Judah’s conflict escalates in violence, Sara and Sol connect in ways that echo Sheba and Solomon.

The friendship puts them in danger.

Reviews

This is an independent film about forbidden love and the ensuing violent cultural clashes between Brooklyn’s African-American and Jewish Communities. The storyline is somewhat predictable, but the film’s musical score, detailed cinematography, and suprisingly decent acting make it a worthwhile watch. The chemistry between the main characters Sol (Tariq Trotter) and Sara (Karen Goberman), was not entirely believable, and the acting by the secondary actors could have used some touching up. Allusions to Ancient Babylon and King Solomon’s Empire put an interesting twist on the story. You will see visually spectacular footage of  Brooklyn’s Carribean Festival (a kind of Mardi Gras celebration). If you’ve never seen or heard the Roots perform, you are in for a treat. They present an evocative style of Hip-Hop, without relying on those played out themes (i.e. money, sex, violence). The sound they create is truly organic and full of musical integrity. Yes, we’ve seen forbidden love stories before, but none quite like this (Amazon: Tom Murray).

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I find it shocking that almost everyone saw this as a retread of the Romeo & Juliet or West Side Story kind of forbidden love tale when the device the plot actually hinges on is the Biblical Song Of Solomon and the Ethiopian legend of Solomon & Sheba. The story and plot follow the story told in the Song Of Solomon much more than they do Romeo & Juliet. As a Jewish man, who happens to be a hip-hop artist, that is married to a Jamaican Rastafarian Brooklynite woman, maybe I found this story just way too irresistable.

No Brooklyn Babylon isn’t a cinematic classic, but it beats almost everything else geared towards the young urban demographic with it’s intelligence & relatability (Amazon: nazaright)

This movie, at first glance, seemed promising. A sort of Romeo & Juliet thing with a Crown Heights spin on it – but it falls far short of its mark.

The protagonist is 1st generation American Rastafarian, and ends up romancing a Hasidic girl, informally engaged.

I’d give the story a 2 or 3 if it ended there. But the story, overly simplistic to begin with, was compounded by the negative stereotypes scattered throughout the movie. Clearly, the director, Marc Levin, has had no contact with Hasidism. Or if he has, he has had only negative interactions. We are not shown a single sympathetic figure in the entire Hasidic enclave, except for maybe the grandmother, who dies  – coincidentally, the night that the girl and boy have pre-martial sex- a BIG Hasidic no-no.

The Hasidism are portrayed as pushy thugs, who stop at nothing to get what they want, be it sex, marriage, or revenge.

The other side is just as oversimplified. We are shown several Bob Marley caricatures – old men in dredlocks hanging out in the back of their stores, smoking marijuana and spouting hippy-istic nothings- but nothing of real substance.

The narration is absurd – someone rapping about what we’ve just seen and making fake rap sounds with his mouth as an interlude.

The ending is nonexistant- the boy is rapping his “masterpiece” about Brooklyn Babylon- hence the title- and we see a bunch of clips throughout the movie of him and the girl. The final shot is the girl pusing a bi-racial baby in a stroller. No resolution at all, when in real life there would have been so many more issues to it!

The different families’ reactions to the relatioship, for one:
Will Sol (the black boy) convert? Is Sara (the jewish girl) going to leave her community? Nothing. We don’t even know if they get married.

Very dissapointing.

Hasidism have to suffer so many slings and arrows of indignity in films- either they are nonexistant backdrops, or warped caricatures – see “A Price Above Rubies” if you don’t believe me.

You’d think a Jewish director would have at least attempted to get it right.

I give this film half a star for some interesting background on Rastafarianism and 1 star for portraying a black protagonist as intelligent- possibly this film’s only saving grace. (Amazon: Andrew Nussbaum)

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