Two weeks ago I flew out to Los Angeles to show the big cheeses at Universal a rough cut of the film. When the lights came up at the end of the screening, the studio brass just sat there in silence, almost stupefied. The silence went on for what seemed like an eternity. Finally I asked Tom Pollock, president of Universal, "So are we gonna get a release?" Everyone started to laugh, the ice had been broken.
Universal's main concern, just like Paramount's, was the ending. Was it too open-ended? How would audiences feel leaving the theater? Will Blacks want to go on a rampage? Will whites feel uncomfortable? Here are some of the suggestions for alternative endings that were tossed around (at least those I listened to):
1. Mookie shouldn't pick up the money that Sal throws on the ground.Flying back to Nueva York, I thought about these endings, but none felt right. Smiley's postcard, that photograph of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King shaking hands, kept coming back to me. I had to find a way to tie these two great men into the finale.
2. Put Mister Senor Love Daddy's "can we live together" speech at the very end of the film.
3. Shoot an epilogue with Mookie talking into the camera. (This was my idea.)
King and Malcolm. Both men died for the love of their people, but had different strategies for realizing freedom. Why not end the film with an appropriate quote from each? In the end, justice will prevail one way or another. There are two paths to that. The way of King, or the way of Malcolm. Yep, we have a choice, Malcolm or King. I know who I'm down with.
December 17, 1988
Brooklyn, New York