About The Production
Filming took place in some of New York City's
most diverse neighborhoods, including Harlem, where the historic and recently
revitalized Lenox Lounge serves as Shaft's favorite watering hole and as a
symbol of the new New York that Shaft calls home. The classic Harlem
bar-restaurant, an Art Deco jewel dating from 1939, had once been a gathering
spot for black notables ranging from Billie Holiday to Malcolm X. After falling
on hard times, the Lenox Lounge was restored to its full glory just in time for
the film's production. Now it serves as an elegant beacon in Harlem's
rapidly revitalizing commercial center at Lenox Avenue just south of 125th
Street. Up the block is the new Starbuck's started by Magic Johnson, and down
125th Street is Harlem, U.S.A., the community's first major shopping mall.
"The Lenox Lounge is a very illustrious place," says production
designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, "and John Singleton wanted that kind of
iconic Harlem presence. It was in the process of restoration, and I had my
doubts as to whether they'd actually finish the renovation in time for our
filming. But they did, just in time, with a little bit of help from us. We had
some fun helping them put it back together.
"The exterior of the police station was located in the Bronx, and many of
the street scenes were filmed in historic Brooklyn neighborhoods like Vinegar
Hill, Red Hook, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. The crew also filmed
across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey, where a defunct
Beaux-Arts-era municipal building was used for the lavish but decaying interior
of the precinct offices.
Washington Heights, a northern Manhattan neighborhood that is rarely used for
film locations, was the scene of several weeks of production. In the film, this
is the part of town ruled by the small-time Dominican drug czar Peoples
Hernandez. Washington Heights is heavily populated by Dominicans, who replaced
the largely German and Irish families who filled its tenements and luxury
apartments during the early decades of the 20th century.
"It's a very vibrant, cohesive neighborhood," says von Brandenstein.
"There are very powerful connections within it from block to block. People
on 156th Street know people on 157th Street who know people on 159th Street. We
were really able to utilize that neighborhood, both its apartment buildings and
its businesses, including the grade school where Diane Palmieri teaches.
"It was a nice feeling to film there; the people in Washington Heights were
very accommodating to us. They were kind to put up with our constant comings and
Some interior sequences, specifically the apartment interiors for Rasaan and
Peoples, were filmed in Brooklyn's Bedford Armory, which is larger than most
"I wanted to give some visual clues to the audience," says von
Brandenstein, "by doing color groupings of the various families and the
various connections so that the audience could keep track of this very rapidly
moving plot. There are scenes that are keyed emotionally to color fields. For
example, we see Rasaan's warmth, the heat, if you will, of his Caribbean
neighborhood reflected in the colors and shapes of his world -- bright yellows
and golds, greens and purples. The colors in Peoples' apartment show a
Dominican influence, especially the deep red of the Dominican flag."
One of the film's key elements is the look of Jackson as Shaft.
"John Shaft is THE MAN," explains costume designer Ruth E. Carter.
"He's the guy who women want and who the bad guys are afraid of. He's
it. I didn't have to elevate Sam in this respect, because he's already there
as an actor, but I wanted to parallel his talent with a kind of smart, savvy
look that was approachable but also menacing." Essential to that look is a
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