Brother to Brother

Reviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 10/17/04 22:48:38

"Rodney Evans' debut asks for change without preaching answers."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

(SCREENED AT THE 2004 CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL) America has been going through another Civil Rights Movement as of late in regards to gays/lesbians and their right to marriage and the privileges that go with it. The supposed liberals of Hollywood, of course, have nothing to say about the subject. Sure, they probably will twenty years from now if/when the gays/lesbians win their rights, but for now, we must rely on the independent filmmakers to make the statements. Rodney Evans’ debut film “Brother To Brother” does not make a statement about gays and marriage, but about gays in the art world and in the African American community. The overall message carries just as much, if not more, relevance.

“Brother To Brother” tells the story of two people from different generations, both involved in the same struggle. In the present day, New York college student Perry (Anthony Mackie) struggles with being a black, gay male while also standing on the verge of success with his art work. Alienated from his family and objectified by his would-be boyfriend, Perry walks through the world coping with an identity crisis that he eventually learns is as much of being an artist as it is a human being.

Perry meets poet/painter Bruce Nugent, an elderly gay, black man whose own struggles date back to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s. Nugent finds a kindred spirit in Perry and takes him on a journey into the past where the art world of African Americans came alive. The film shifts from color to black and white with these transitions to the past showing Nugent forming friendships with fellow legends Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Wallace Thurman. Through these flashbacks, Perry sees his role of a black, gay artist as a way of having the baton passed down to him, the struggle for equality in America far from over.

Writer/director Rodney Evans weaves these two stories together effortlessly making them whole. There exists no shift in tone between the past and present day. The movie seems to suggest that homophobia has not fallen by the wayside in today’s seemingly liberal culture, but Evans’ movie focuses on the issue in a racial context. The movie asks how can a race fight for equality while perpetuating a fear and loathing toward another minority?

“Brother To Brother” suffers occasionally from overstating the obvious (“Man, I guess some things never change”) and the movie does have that first-time-director feel to it, but to Evans’ credit, he never preaches answers. Instead, the film keeps begging the questions, which probably comes from Evans’ background as a documentary filmmaker. “Brother To Brother” comes alive not just through the performances, all of them good, but also through Evans’ devotion to and passion for the history.

It’s also worth nothing that, like Mario Van Peebles’ “Baddasssss!” from earlier this year, “Brother To Brother” offers a view of the African American community that Hollywood to this day seems reluctant to acknowledge. It’s a refreshing and necessary alternative to the buffoonery of “Soul Plane” and the tired hip-hop shtick of anything starring Queen Latifah. “Brother To Brother” has a lot to say that’s worth hearing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of this review can also be found in the 2004 Chicago International Film Festival Book, also written by Collin Souter.

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