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Brother to Brother

Mon 30 May 2005 In: Movies

Dir: Rodney Evans USA, 2004 35mm, 94mins Being young and gay in the increasingly fundamentalist USA is never going to be a picnic, but add being African/American into the mix and you've got a whole host of extra problems. Black history student and promising artist Perry Williams finds himself rejected by his peers, and treated like an experimental sex object by white guys. He's not welcome at home any longer, having been thrown out by his father. We learn this early in the film when he returns home to get some college textbooks. "Anything of yours in this house no longer exists," he is told before having the door slammed in his face. Yep, it's bloody hard. When coping with race hatred, at least you can rely on solidarity from others like you, but if you're gay, who is going to stand up for you? Perry isn't a weak moper, though. He has a strong will to survive, and a need to make a connection with a history and identity. This he finds in the form of Bruce Nugent, an elderly homeless character who turns out to be one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. This leads us into an absorbing and intricately woven narrative that contrasts Bruce's Bohemian past with Perry's present, revealing a piece at a time. Lessons are learnt, giving Perry a sense of direction and providing insights that can be applied to his own life. Bruce was part of an artistic circle that did not want to be assimilated – brown on the outside, white on the inside, if you will. Their groundbreaking in-your-face literature and unabashed embracing of alternative sexuality is something that wouldn't be seen among whites until the sexual revolution over forty years later. They wouldn't be thanked for it, though. Being so 'out there' was seen by the wider African/American community as a threat to the advancement of civil rights. The parallels between this conflict and the desire of some in the GLBT community to jettison some of the less 'desirable' elements is quite astonishing. It's an amazing story, one which has been hidden for too long. Gay men who were an integral part of the civil rights movement, yet rejected by their peers or forced to keep their sexuality stifled so as not to frighten the horses of white middle America. Even now, decades down the road to equality, these men are still belittled, as Perry discovers when he attempts to talk about them in his history class. Strength of purpose and individuality are what kept these men going, and this is something that Perry will have to discover before he finds his own voice. Director Rodney Evans manages to pack so much into the film's ninety-four minutes, but the story never feels rushed. It's uncompromising, just like its characters, and an absolute must-see. Chris Banks - 30th May 2005    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Monday, 30th May 2005 - 12:00pm

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