BROTHER TO BROTHER (Rodney Evans). Tonight (Thursday, February 3) at the Bloor Cinema. For details, see Indie & Rep Film, page 95. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Brother to brother, about a young gay black artist struggling to find a voice, has won a bunch of awards from various North American gay and lesbian film festivals. So its special fundraising screening by Toronto's Inside Out Film And Video Fest to mark Black History Month feels appropriate, even if the film itself is a bit stiff.
Perry (Anthony Mackie) is a young, gifted and black student and emerging painter who's been thrown out of his family's house, is looking for love and encounters resistance when he brings up gay issues in his black studies class.
While Perry's hanging with his straight homie Marcus, an aspiring spoken word artist, an older man lays down some rhymes on the two. Later, Perry recognizes this man as an inhabitant of the homeless shelter where he works and discovers that he's Bruce Nugent, a lesser-known survivor from the legendary Harlem Renaissance artistic movement.
What follows is your basic wise-old-queen-instructs-naive-young-upstart narrative, with all the important lessons that genre implies: Remember where you've come from. We've been through these struggles -- and more -- before. Do us proud.
The film's heavy-handedness is saved partly by Roger Robinson's flirty, winking performance as Nugent.
The best scenes are Nugent's flashbacks to the 1930s, as he, Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston and others fight against both the white artistic establishment and the burgeoning bourgeois black community to put together their controversial journal Fire.
Writer/director Rodney Evans films these sequences in black-and-white, and they're full of impassioned talk, great fashions and exciting sexual gropings and groupings. There's a terrific crosscut scene in which a white publisher instructs writers Hurston (Aunjanue Ellis) and Thurman (the intense Ray Ford) that they must make concessions in their writing.
Compared to these scenes, Perry's problems about racist white boys and homophobic black boys seem trivial.
You get the feeling that Evans himself believes this, and that he really wants to create a full-length, bigger-budget feature set completely in the Harlem Renaissance. Title: Mr. Hughes And The Vicious Circle?