BROTHER TO BROTHERNR
WOLFE/Color-B&W/1.85/94 Mins./Not Rated
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Roger Robinson, Larry Gilliard, Jr., Aunjanue Ellis, Duane Boutte, Daniel Sunjata, Alex Burns, Ray Ford.
Credits: Written and directed by Rodney Evans. Produced by Evans, Jim McKay, Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof. Director of photography: Harlan Bosmajian. Production designer: Ernesto Solo. Edited by Sabine Hoffman. Music by Marc Anthony Thompson. Costume designer: Sarah Beers. Co-producers: Marc Johnson, Seth Carmichael. An ITVS presentation of a Miasma Films production, in association with C-Hundred Film Corp. and Intrinsic Value.
A radiantly smart, sexy and deeply affecting antidote to so many cliché-ridden, black gay, hell, just plain gay films, Rodney Evans’ Brother to Brother deals with the relationship between Perry (Anthony Mackie), a college student struggling with his sexual identity, and an old man (Roger Robinson) he encounters, who turns out to be Bruce Nugent, out and proud member of the Harlem Renaissance (roughly 1920-40), who once rubbed shoulders with the likes of Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata), Zora Neale Hurston (Aunjanue Ellis), and the photographer Carl Van Vechten, who captured them all for posterity.
Ambitious in structure, trenchantly political in content, Evans’ film simultaneously tells the story of both Perry—who has been kicked out of his home and has to deal with, among other things, pervasive homophobia among his college set, as well as a white boyfriend who can be less than sensitive—and Nugent, who, indeed, dealt with many of the same issues back in the day. On a shoestring budget, Evans has magically recreated the Harlem of the ’30s, particularly the fervent creative energy of these artists, which finds its modern-day parallel in the poetry/rap-fueled efforts of urban culture. Evans also boldly addresses the kind of unconscious racism that exists in an offhand, would-be complimentary remark Perry’s lover makes about his anatomy, which Perry bristles at. And how many movies, gay or straight, ever deal with the sexuality of senior citizens? Robinson invests Nugent with an imperial coquettishness; he’s the kind of fearfully charming geezer who can easily seduce younger generations of boys, but also highly cognizant of the price he sometimes pays for it. There’s a wonderful scene in Nugent’s local bar, in which he pours out his feelings for Perry to a simpatico bartender who can only be described as both brotherly and sisterly.
Sunjata brings his blinding physical attractiveness and innate star quality to Hughes, and Ellis is febrilely smart as Hurston, determined to stay her own, highly personal literary course. If the film has a major weakness, it is Mackie, who, although brave and committed, comes off a bit too bland as Perry. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, all brainy and energetically brimming with life; there’s not a dummy among them and that alone is reason to celebrate this singular, special film in these intellectually bereft times.