Laura CliffordDirector/writer Rodney Evans wears his heart on his sleeve with his story about young gay black men in New York City seeking a voice for their love of poetry. But, this modern day interest in verse is foreshadowed by the Harlem Renaissance of black, gay poets in the 1920's and budding young bard, Perry (Anthony Mackie), soon learns some life lessons from one of its principal articulators in "Brother to Brother."
The buzz on "Brother to Brother" led me to believe that the film is "about" the Harlem Renaissance and its legendary members, such as Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurmond and Robert Bruce Nugent. The film touches on that time and the lives of the men and women who created modern verse and opened the eyes of many to its beauty and intelligence. But, "B to B" is mainly a modern day parable following the life of Perry, an intelligent, sensitive gay man who has a penchant for poetry.
When an aging Bruce Nugent enters the scene he comes to show his young protégé that his interest in verse is nothing new and begins to show Perry that there was a time, early in the last century, when young black people, straight and gay, began to put their hearts and minds to poetry, forever changing (for some) the stereotyped view of gay black men in our society. This change of view is represented by the Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson) character, an older man who overhears Perry and his friend, Marcus (Larry Gilliard Jr.), reciting their own poetry. He interrupts their banter with a thoughtful poem of his own creation and begins to open them up to modern African American literary history.
First time feature film helmer Evans creates an interesting, if mannered, look into both the lifestyles of urban, gay black men and their verse and the birth of the Black poetry movement of the 20's. The modern day story, about Perry and his poetry-minded friends, deals with their struggle to live their chosen gay lifestyle and the poetry that reflects it. It would seem their passion for verse is new and never done before - until Perry meets Bruce Nugent.
Nugent, one of the creative intellectual forces of the Harlem Renaissance, is a worldly, wise, gay black man who was a key member of the movement that gave voice to intellectual movement among African American men and women. Now, as he becomes a part of Perry's life as friend and mentor, he tells the younger man about those heady days when the black poetry movement reared up and opened many young black minds.
While the examination of modern day, poetry-creating, gay, urban black men is well enough handled by Evans and his mostly young team of actors, I found the side story of the Renaissance, as told by Nugent, to be the real draw, for me, to "Brother to Brother." The flashbacks to those creative days made me want more of that back story, enough so to make me wonder why there isn't a documentary on that fascinating time in Black history. (As it turns out, there is such a doc: "Against the Odds: The Artists of the Harlem Renaissance" (1994) by PBS, available on VHS.)
"Brother to Brother" should do well with its niche audiences of young black gays and open the eyes of others to the power of poetry and prose. It is a specialized film that will help bring to light the self-affirming ideas of pride in one's self and one's artistic pursuits. It may not start a new millennium rebirth of the poetry movement in America but gives honest, heartfelt hope for young blacks, especially gays, looking to find their voice in this sometimes uncompassionate world. I give it a C+.
Laura also gives "Brother to Brother" a C+.
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