Brother to Brother
Directed by Rodney Evans
So well-intentioned is writer-director Rodney Evans’ debut film Brother to Brother that one is tempted to ignore its dramatic shortcomings. This was have been the case when it made its debut at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize. Brother to Brother may not be a great film, but it is certainly one with its heart in the right place.
By following the relationship between Perry, a young, black, gay painter, and Richard Nugent, the relatively obscure black, gay poet of the racial-sexual-artistic movement that was the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and ‘30s, Evans posits the thesis that the rejection and persecution endured by black gay men from members of their own race mirrors the difficulty of Nugent and other Renaissance writers (most notably Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, and Zora Neale Hurston, all portrayed in the film) to get their literary magazine “Fire” distributed when, due to the provocative nature of the works, the NAACP tried to have copies of the journal removed from newsstands. This idea alone is intriguing, pertinent, and clearly articulated by Evans. However, if I’m describing the film as if it were more of a sociology project than a work of art, it’s because the film often seems as didactic as the college term paper on Nugent that Perry submits at the film’s end. For all the merit of the film’s premise, one wishes that it had given us more in the way of dramatic conflict and emotional payoff.
That is not to say that the characters and performances aren’t engaging. As Perry, Anthony Mackie is appropriately sensitive and soulful (which serves as a testament to his range to those who only know him as tough rationalist Sgt. James Sanborn from The Hurt Locker), and character actor Roger Robinson subtly provides the older Nugent with just enough humor and pathos to convince us that the flamboyance and passion of the Harlem Renaissance haven’t been diminished with age. Unfortunately, too much of what occurs in the film merely exists for the purpose of making a statement rather than developing these potentially rich characters. For
And yet, despite biting off more than it can chew, Brother to Brother is still worth seeing. In an age where mindless sex romps such as Eating Out