‘Brother to Brother’ offers ethnic gay characters

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“Brother to Brother” is the first gay oriented movie that I’ve ever seen in which the central character, and most of the actors, are African American (“black” for short).

Watching actors who mirrored my own ethnic features and dialect made me giddy with the prospect of something new, something even more reflective of me, something that felt even more like home. Seeing shades of brown skin on the screen worn by beautiful actors was an experience in itself. This, coupled with the fact that gay issues were being explored as well, made me feel like I wasn’t watching just another gay movie. Of course it takes more than black actors on the screen for me to relate to the movie or learn from it, but the fact alone that there are so few movies portraying the experiences of gay black people makes this one a gem.

Perry is a passionate young black college student in New York with a natural gift for painting. After being disowned by his parents for being gay, Perry is left with only his straight best friend since childhood, Marcus, who serves as friend, family and protector. Unfortunately, Marcus can’t always be there to protect him. Perry is in search of companionship, but it isn’t long before companionship finds him. A white classmate named Jim with an ambiguous sexuality becomes a clandestine ally and possibly more.

Like a bird stalking prey, Richard Bruce Nugent, a legendary gay black writer who flourished during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s also finds Perry. Homeless, and living in the very shelter where Perry works to pay his college tuition, Bruce takes on the role of mentor to Perry, sharing his own personal stories of setbacks, triumphs and lessons learned. With a mutual love of — and talent — for the arts, the two are like father and son.

To be honest, I almost passed up on renting this movie based on just the title. For me the title screamed bad acting, bad cinematography, bad script and riddled with stereotypes. I wanted the first gay black movie I saw to be a Snickers instead of an Almond Joy. I was left with something more down the middle, like a Twix. “Brother to Brother” is a nice departure from the druggie club kid turns hustler story often told. It succeeds in giving us a contemporary look at the life of an urban black, gay and introspective youth, while slightly quenching our thirst for gay black history through the flashbacks of a living legend from the bygone era. The very first spoken line of the film, delivered over gentle piano music in order to set a heavy “I-take-myself-very-seriously” mood, is poignant and can be understood in several different ways. The scenes between Jim and Perry are exciting, sensual and unpredictable.

Where “Brother to Brother” fails is in developing the characters and setting the scene. Many of the scenes that would have given us a more in-depth look at who the characters are were the very scenes cut from the movie. I also found myself wondering at times where Perry was, and why he was there. I wanted to see more of the environment that Perry and young Bruce Nugent were in. I wanted to see more intimacy between Jim and Perry. While Perry tells Jim how he feels and what he needs, their relationship is left open-ended, without clarification or closure. If you find yourself feeling as I do, watch the deleted scenes for a look at how much more complete the movie could have been. All that having been said, the director should be proud to have produced such fresh and much sought-after work. Hopefully this movie is only a taste of what’s to come…

Brother to Brother: C+

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