As the borough pauses to reflect on the 10th anniversary of
the Crown Heights riots, filmmaker Marc Levin is giving Brooklyn
even more to talk about.
His new film, "Brooklyn Babylon," is the story of an
interracial love affair between a Rastafarian rapper named Sol
(Tariq Trotter) and a Hasidic Jewish woman named Sara (Sara Goberman)
which unfolds in Crown Heights, Coney Island and the Brooklyn
After their accidental meeting (in a car crash), they continue
to bump into one another, and find they are drawn to each other
– despite their vastly different cultures.
Both Sol and Sara must defend themselves from their own communities’
increasingly violent retaliations. One of the most gripping displays
of hatred in the film is when Sara’s ex-boyfriend Judas (David
Vadim) discovers she has taken Sol as a lover and beats her openly
in the Botanic Garden.
The music-driven story, according to Levin ("Slam,"
"Whiteboys"), is loosely based on the Old Testament’s
"Song of Songs," but the story, which he co-wrote and
directed, was also inspired by the anguish that erupted in his
own family when his sister became involved with a black man.
Levin, 50, said his sister lived with a Jamaican Rastafarian,
much to the chagrin of his family.
"My parents were very progressive, involved in the labor
movement, but even in my family, I saw the pain – in my grandfather
especially – as he tried to make sense of my sister’s life choice
and what it meant," he said. "How to deal with a grandson
who was black? That comes close to home."
Levin began shooting "Brooklyn Babylon" in September
1999, eight years after the three days of rioting between blacks
and Hasidic Jews erupted in Crown Heights had left two dead.
Levin, now a Manhattan resident, called filming in the neighborhoods
where his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lived,
"kind of going home." But that doesn’t mean it was
While shooting the car crash scene, at Eastern Parkway and Kingston
Avenue, near the world Lubavitch headquarters, Levin found his
nerves had begun to fray.
"From 1 am to 5 am, a crowd developed around the car crash,
with the stars [a carload of young blacks and a carload of young
Jews] yelling at each other [in the intersection]. I thought,
’This is madness. Why not move this four blocks away?’
"Young Lubavitch kids from Russia and Israel congregated.
But a few of them had read Vibe magazine and knew [actor] Bonz
[Malone] from his column and started asking him for his autograph.
"It was such an amazing scene," Levin said of the culture
barriers he saw eroding. "They were Lubavitch but they knew
about pop culture and hip-hop. It could have gone ugly, because
we were so exposed. The actors were all brave – we didn’t have
big trailers where the stars could hide, and we didn’t have a
lot of security. It could have gone bad."
Levin believes that it didn’t "go bad" because of the
earnest themes in the movie – peace and love.
"That authenticity is read by young Jewish kids and young
African-American kids – you’re not coming in ripping off everyone.
Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the movie are, the ideas
and passion in the film will touch some people. To others it
may be laughable or irrelevant."
"Brooklyn Babylon" made headlines when it opened this
year’s Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, but the distributor,
Artisan, according to Levin, "thought it was too soft, and
[they believe] you can’t sell love to the hip-hop generation."
Levin said he opted not to "deliver the gang-war bloodbath
that Artisan would be happy with." Subsequently, Artisan
did not distribute the film.
According to Levin, Artisan was going to sue him to prevent the
film from being shown at Slamdance – until The Roots turned up
to support him. (The film’s score includes music by the Grammy
Award-winning band, The Roots, of which Trotter, under the moniker
Blackthought, is a member.)
"When [Artisan] saw it had a good reaction, they backed
An exclusive, one-week run of "Brooklyn Babylon," August
17-23, at BAM is a rare opportunity to see the film.
"What BAM is doing is tremendous. I’m touched by it,"
said Levin. "This month is the 10th anniversary of the riot
in Crown Heights – which was a great tragedy in Brooklyn and
a low point in the relationship between blacks and Jews. I hope
this film will be a catalyst for people to start mixing up ideas."
"Brooklyn Babylon" will be
shown at the BAM Rose Cinemas (30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place)
Aug. 17-23. A Q&A with director Marc Levin and actor Tariq
Trotter will follow the 6:30 pm screening on Aug. 22. Tickets
are $9; $6 students and seniors. For more information, call (718)