Brother To Brother

Documentary filmmaker Rodney Evans (THE UNVEILING) makes an exciting feature debut with this ambitious and surprisingly complex drama about race, sexuality and the question of making art on a culture's margins. Sound intense? It is, but it's also funny, sexy and very cleverly done. African-American painter Perry Williams (SHE HATE ME's Anthony Mackie) has...read more

Reviewed by Ken Fox
Rating:

Documentary filmmaker Rodney Evans (THE UNVEILING) makes an exciting feature debut with this ambitious and surprisingly complex drama about race, sexuality and the question of making art on a culture's margins. Sound intense? It is, but it's also funny, sexy and very cleverly done. African-American painter Perry Williams (SHE HATE ME's Anthony Mackie) has been living on his own ever since his father caught him in the arms of another man and threw them both out of his Queens house. Now a student at Columbia University who's about to make his Soho group-show debut, Perry spends whatever free time he has working at a Harlem homeless shelter, hanging out with his childhood friend, Marcus (Larry Gilliard Jr.), a spoken-word artist who's suspicious of white enthusiasm for the black experience, or studying for his black political struggle seminar with the only white classmate, Jim (Alex Burns). A class discussion of James Baldwin's essay "The Fire Next Time" leads another black student (Billoah Greene) to angrily decry Baldwin's homosexuality and his hateful comments only serve to intensify Perry's isolation. Marginalized by whites for being black, ostracized by some blacks for being gay and objectified by Jim as a stereotypical sex object, Perry finds consolation in a homeless man whom he first encounters quoting poetry on a city street. This stranger, Perry is thrilled to learn, is none other than Bruce Nugent, the celebrated writer of the Harlem Renaissance. Like Perry, Bruce is also gay and, along with the other contributors to the notorious black arts journal Fire!!, similarly found himself shunned by the black mainstream. The intelligentsia of the time despised Nugent and his ilk for their honest and enthusiastic depiction of gays, prostitutes and other "lowlife," as well as their full embrace of "colored" dialect and speech. Flashing back and forth between Perry's present and Bruce's past — the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance is convincingly re-created in black-and-white by a talented cast portraying Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata), Zora Neale Hurston (Aunjanue Ellis) and Wallace Thurman (Ray Ford) — Evans performs a delicate balancing act with surprising ease; he's able to nimbly draw fascinating cultural and societal connections between both worlds without ever seeming schematic or contrived. There is the slight question of Bruce's age — the real Richard Bruce Nugent died an elderly man in 1987 — but that incongruity only adds to his character's otherworldly mystery. More than a historical figure, Bruce comes to represent a cultural moment, an echo from a remarkable era that continues to resonate into the future.

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