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Brooklyn Babylon Reviews

WEST SIDE STORY meets DO THE RIGHT THING in this Romeo and Juliet variation set in Brooklyn's Crown Heights, where Orthodox Hasidic Jews and African-Americans of Caribbean descent — groups with dramatically different cultural mores — coexist uneasily. Filmmaker Marc Levin opens with footage of the 1991 Crown Heights riot, which erupted after a car carrying Grand Rabbi Menachem Schneerson struck two black youngsters, killing one, then segues into the fictional story of star-crossed lovers Sara (Karen Goberman) and Sol (musician Tariq Trotter, of The Roots). Though she yearns to attend college and experience the world outside her close-knit Hasidic community, Sara's future has already been mapped out: She's going to marry the possessive and militant Judah (David Vadim), make a home in the neighborhood and become a self-effacing wife and mother. Sol, whose roots are Rastafarian, aspires to a career in hip-hop; childhood friend Scratch (Bonz Malone), a hot-tempered hustler, is acting as his manager and promises that any day now Sol and the Lions will be playing lucrative gigs. A head-on collision brings Sol and Sara together: Judah and Scratch are the drivers, and while their ugly post-crash confrontation stops short of violence, it sets in motion a series of events that nearly lead to another full-blown riot. Judah and his friends get the local cops to rough up Scratch, who in turn plants a bomb in Judah's car; Judah's crew retaliates by tossing a Molotov cocktail into a local Caribbean dance club. Meanwhile, Sara and Sol discover that they have more in common than they could ever have imagined, and each risks being ostracized by family and friends in order to pursue the blossoming relationship. On the plus side, Levin strives to give equal time to the two communities, and show each as part of a rich, vibrant culture. He also refuses to embrace popular stereotypes: Ratsafarians as gun-toting gangsters, Hasidim as joyless religious fanatics (his footage of "Hasidic Hendrix" Yossi Piamenta rocking out goes a long way to suggesting that there's room for fun in Orthodox Judaism). But only Sol and Sara even approach being real characters; the supporting players, Black and Jewish alike, are shrill stereotypes. The film's good intentions are undeniable, and despite the clunky execution it provides fascinating glimpses of two often-caricatured urban cultures. It was released directly to video in May 2001, then scored a brief theatrical release.