From the team behind HBO’s If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast, The Bronx, USA follows producer George Shapiro as he returns to his hometown of the Bronx. Revisiting the streets, stores and memories of his childhood, Shapiro reflects on the singularity of the borough he grew up in and the close friendships he made there that have stood the test of time.
A love letter to a special part of New York City and its distinctive residents, the documentary also introduces the next generation of Bronx-ites – the 2017 graduating class of DeWitt Clinton High School, who may come from different backgrounds from Shapiro’s class of 1949, but whose passion, drive and emphasis on the power of friendship connects them with the seniors who came nearly seventy years before them.
Directed by Danny Gold, the film features notable Bronx-ites like Alan and Arlene Alda, Charles Fox, Robert Klein, Hal Linden, Melissa Manchester, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Chazz Palminteri, General Colin Powell, Carl Reiner and Rob Reiner, who share their experiences in the Bronx and discuss what the area means to them. Colin Powell credits his first boss, a Jewish toy shop owner, with encouraging him to get an education, while Alan Alda and Arlene Alda recall the borough serving as the backdrop for their courtship.
The Bronx, USA includes an original song that opens and closes the film, “Da Bronx” with lyrics by Paul Williams, music by Charles Fox and performed by actor/comedian/singer Robert Klein and actor/singer Donald Webber, Jr.
The birthplace of doo-wop and salsa, the Bronx birthed hip hop in the 80s and with it, a whole new culture. Home to the world-famous Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo, New York’s northernmost borough has long been both culturally diverse and racially tolerant. Revisiting his old stomping grounds with longtime friend Carl Golub and Jay Schwartz, Shapiro remembers the fun they had as kids. Back then, families lived in the same building, leaving their doors unlocked and everyone knew each other’s business. Mom-and-pop stores lined the streets and it was never hard to find a kid to play with. Years later, Shapiro and his childhood friends, who’ve dubbed themselves the “Bronx Boys,” get together every five years to reminisce and celebrate their long-lasting bond.
While touring old neighborhood sites, including the building he grew up in, Shapiro can’t shake the feeling that something has shifted in the modern-day Bronx. Returning to their former elementary school proves to be disheartening at first, when the students seem disinterested in their beloved game of stick-ball. The disheartenment soon turns into joy when they see the kids experience the excitement they recognize as soon they start playing.
Friendships also prove to be strong in the Bronx community today, just as Shapiro remembers. Joined by fellow “Bronx Boy” Jay, George and Carl finally pay a visit to DeWitt Clinton High School. Though the building’s exterior, covered in scaffolding, isn’t quite how they remember, they bond over their shared experiences with their guides, graduating seniors Danielle and Javid. Danielle, Student Body President of the 2017 graduating class, says that while many of her classmates come from low-income households, “having friends helps with getting over those hurdles.”
While the students face modern day obstacles, they find comfort in Carl’s advice, quoting Howard West, “Life is not fair, get over it”. By revisiting his hometown, George is thrilled to see the vibrant culture, diversity and strong friendships that he sees to be the lifeline of the borough.
The Bronx, USA is a funny, heartwarming and insightful celebration of what connects us across racial backgrounds, cultures and generations, ultimately emphasizing the hope that exists for the future of America
The Bronx, USA is directed by Danny Gold; produced by George Shapiro and Danny Gold; executive producer, Aimee Hyatt; written by Danny Gold and Michael Mayhew; directors of photography, Matthew Wachsman and Larry Herbst; edited by Michael Mayhew; music by Tom Scott, John Robinson and Nathan East. For HBO: supervising producer, Greg Rhem, executive producers, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller.