BROTHER TO BROTHER (director/writer: Rodney Evans; cinematographer: Harlan Bosmajian; editor: Sabine Hoffman; music: Marc Anthony Thompson; cast: Duane Boutte (Young Bruce), Anthony Mackie (Perry Williams), Roger Robinson (Bruce Nugent), Larry Gilliard Jr. (Marcus), Alex Burns (Jim), Ray Ford (Wally Thurman), Aunjanue Ellis (Zora), Daniel Sunjata (Langston Hughes); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Rodney Evans/Jim McKay/Isen Robbins/Aimee Schoof; Wolfe; 2004)
“Honestly, sensitively and movingly covers the life struggles of black, gay artists in the present and past.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Brother to Brother is the feature-film debut of filmmaker Rodney Evans, the film’s writer, director and producer, whose drama honestly, sensitively and movingly covers the life struggles of black, gay artists in the present and past. It invokes the glory days of the 1930’s Harlem Renaissance (this creative period in African American history was rarely if ever done in a feature film) through the memories of Bruce Nugent, the co-founder of the revolutionary literary journal Fire!! (a ‘zine denounced by the NAACP that folded after a single issue) with Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Wallace Thurman. It’s an intelligent and ambitious film that successfully links a young black gay New York artist/student and an elderly black gay poet/painter from the pioneering Harlem Renaissance days. Through this mentoring relationship the young man learns to cope with his emotional travails of being gay, black and an artist, and finds his voice to express what’s stewing inside him.
Columbia University student Perry Williams is forced out of his parents’ Brooklyn apartment after discovered in a sexual liaison with another young man. The bright youngster lives in the dorm, tries to hold onto his college scholarship despite detesting his ‘Black History’ class, and works as a volunteer in a homeless shelter. At the shelter Perry meets Bruce Nugent and soon discovers the elderly homeless man was a minor but recognizable figure during the Harlem Renaissance. In his library research Perry recognizes the poem “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” as the one Bruce recited to him in the street in front of his aspiring angry poet friend Marcus. This soul connection between the two artists takes them on a surreal journey via black-and-white flashbacks to the house that was known as “Niggeratti Manor,” which was the creative spot for the members of the Harlem Renaissance to gather. It was where the likes of Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman and Bruce Nugent worked and played. Through Bruce’s storytelling and inspiration Perry learns to have a stronger sense of his identity and not be ashamed to be black and gay. Perry also learns how to deal with his troubling sexual relationship with white student Jim, the homophobia in black society, making artistic decisions, and in dealing with the bias by many blacks preferring those of lighter skin. Though awkwardly acted at times, the film never loses its appeal as both a labor of love and a history lesson that seems obvious but nevertheless had to be told. The film did not flinch from showing its anger at society for its bias or in its openly depicting of sexual male relationships (though there were no frontal shots).
Brother to Brother has won many awards, including at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival for Best Fiction Film, the Special Jury Prize for Passion in Filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival, and at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (Outfest) it won the Audience Award for Best Feature and the Jury Prize for Best Feature.
REVIEWED ON 11/4/2004 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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