Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA on his love of movies, his partnership with Alamo Drafthouse and Shaolin Saturdays

STATEN ISLAND, NY — When the outside world thinks of Staten Island, a few things come to mind: pizza, scenic parks and the Wu.

A native of the Park Hill section of Clifton, RZA (born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs) curated one of the greatest rap collectives of all time – the Wu-Tang Clan. Inspired by kung-fu and Asian culture, RZA and Wu-Tang gave boom-bap hip-hop a distinctive sound while also putting Staten Island, or as they call it “Shaolin,” on the map.

Over the years, RZA has become a force in the music, business and film industries. Still, he made sure to protect the borough’s neck of the woods—whether by donating much-needed technology to PS 78 in Stapleton, or by welcoming islanders to the Alamo Drafthouse’s kung-fu-inspired Flying Guillotine bar.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

When did your love for cinema begin?

I think it started when I saw a movie in a movie theater. The experience of watching something on a big screen took me to another world. But, by the time I became a fan, I was probably 9 years old, watching a kung fu double feature and I was just taken.

What is your favorite action or kung fu movie of all time?

This is a tough question, but if someone wanted to watch a kung fu movie and has never seen it, I would offer them two options. I would offer them Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, because Bruce Lee is one of the greatest, right, and the diversity of this cast. It is one of the first to have a diverse cast like this. But I would also offer them “36 Chambers of Shaolin”, because of the perseverance of a man who goes through oppression and finds himself, finds skills and returns to help his community. It’s a beautiful story.

How did the partnership with Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas come about?

Well, first of all, I’m a fan of it [founder/executive chairman] Hon [League] and Alamo Drafthouse. When I first met Tim, he had two of these theaters. I was in Austin, Texas and just enjoying myself as a moviegoer. I just sat there — people would take my order, write it down and come in and come back and bring me [food and drinks]. He had bottles of wine then. they had to get corkscrews! So I had a great time and also enjoyed the selection of movies that were playing.

I met Tim through my friend, Quentin [Tarantino], and we became friends and built our own relationship. When he said he was going to build one in Staten Island and he approached me, I said “Yes, I’d love to help in any capacity to help make that vision a reality.”

And as we started talking about it, I think every Alamo Drafthouse has a theme — wax museum, of course, the arcade in Los Angeles, North Carolina has a theme, but [we wanted] a kung fu theme in Shaolin. We sent a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls, a lot of persistence to bring it to life.

RZA and Wu-Tang Clan’s Tim League, founder and Executive Chairman of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Flying Guillotine bar in New Dorp. August 14, 2022 (Staten Island Advance/Shaina McLawrence) Shaina McLawrenceShaina McLawrence

When you were growing up, where did you go to the movies?

Well, here in Staten Island, we had the Paramount Theater and we had the St. George Theater at the beginning. It was like the early 80’s and maybe the late 70’s. I remember seeing ‘Rocky’ at the Paramount theater so whatever year that was (1976). And then we end up at the UA Theater on Hylan Avenue. In that area, the last time there was anything like full for me was, I think, they had “Higher Learning,” the John Singleton movie, and it was just one of those things where it resonated with all of us because Staten The island at that time had a lot to understand.

Yes, I am a movie buff, I burst into all the theaters. I will honestly say that, and no disrespect to Staten Island, we have never had a theater like this. A theater like this did not exist on Staten Island. Look, that kind of theater didn’t exist in many places. they need this, right? A place where you could come and watch current top Hollywood production movies, [or] you have an independent film that might not be on 2,000 screens, you can find it here. But, most importantly, [you’ve got] curated films by staff and film lovers are presented in front of an audience, which will educate the audience.

Here, martial arts films are the theme – the posters, the Flying Guillotine bar and every Saturday will be Shaolin Saturday Kung-fu. We will have a movie every Saturday to bring this kung fu atmosphere to the public. And maybe there’s another kid who gets it and becomes another RZA straight out of Staten Island.

NWS Alamo RZA

RZA’s Saturday Shaolin Theater screening at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. August 14, 2022 (Staten Island Advance/Shaina McLawrence) Shaina McLawrenceShaina McLawrence

When watching movies, what is your favorite snack?

I’ll give you two snacks. I’m vegan and they make some of the best Beyond Burgers in the business [at Alamo Drafthouse], so you have to get that and the handmade popcorn. They have a great menu. you will have a great time. But for me, a bucket of popcorn and a Beyond Burger with fries.

Every true Staten Islander has a favorite pizza place. What is yours?

Well, listen, I can tell this is going to be all pride and courage. For many years, Brother’s Pizzeria in Port Richmond has been my go-to. We drove from Park Hill to Port Richmond for this pizza.

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