YUSUF HAWKINS: STORM OVER BROOKLYN -- An Essential Documentary About the Tragic Loss of Yusuf Hawkins
Review by Camden Ferrell
With the continued fight for racial justice and equality, it seems that Muta’Ali Muhammad’s newest film could not have come at a better time. His documentary Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn may revolve around the horrific events of August 23, 1989, but it bears strong relevance in today’s climate. With a moving subject, insightful interviews, and great organization, this documentary is a success in showing the extent one boy’s death has on his community.
Yusuf Hawkins was a black teenager who was murdered in Bensonhurst by a group of white teenagers. After his death, a community in mourning banded together to protest and start a revolution that would galvanize the public. Muhammad’s documentary has a solid foundation in a tragic yet well-known event that serves as a branching off point for exploring many different stories and themes.
Muhammad compiles plenty of interviews from Yusef’s family and friends as well as Al Sharpton, and he intercuts these interviews with archival footage and news clips that effectively tell Yusef’s story in real time while simultaneously being a retrospective look for the interviewees. He has a strong talent for organizing this documentary in a way that is coherent yet never cookie-cutter or boring.
The interviews are very moving, and it’s clear that these events are still emotional for the subjects, and that’s a sentiment that transcends beyond the screen and to the viewers. A lot of the archival footage of Yusef’s family is especially difficult to watch because it’s such raw emotion that is genuine and powerful. We see Yusuf’s mother and father as they must grieve their son’s death and also maintain a strong media presence as the fight for justice continues.
What’s important to note is that the dates of these significant events are shown, and they are very recent. We see the year 1989 and 1990 a lot, and it serves as a reminder that this racism and injustice is more recent than many would like to believe. It’s jarring to think that even my parents were older than Yusuf at the time of his murder, and it enforces the subsequent call to action this film has. In light of recent events, this movie’s message is even more relevant.
While the movie does a great job of honoring Yusuf’s legacy through the testimony of his family and friends, I feel the movie could have spent more time in exploring his character and the more intricate details of his life and personality. Regardless, this movie is a tragic story of a life taken far too soon, but it also serves as a reminder about the power of community, the power of protest, and how one person can start a movement.
Muhammad’s documentary highlights how far this country is from achieving justice, and it’s an enraging look at how this country continues to fail black people. While the frustration with the systemic racism in this country is recurring, Muhammad never strays away from exploring the positive actions of Yusuf’s community. He highlights how they remained fervent even in the face of adversity and prejudice, and it reminds the audience that there is strength in numbers.
Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn is a necessary watch for all. Despite its TV-MA rating, this may be something to watch and discuss as a family. It is full of highly relevant messages and themes, and it’s also just a very well-made and entertaining documentary. It packs an emotional punch, and it reminds us that we’re still a long way from achieving justice and equality for all.
Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn is premiering on HBO 8/12 at 9pm EST. It will also be available on HBO and HBO Max.