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June 2005

By TJ Jones

Brother to Brother DVD

Director: Rodney Evans
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Roger Robinson, Larry Gilliard Jr., Aunjanue Ellis, Duane Boutte, Daniel Sunjata, Ray Ford, Alex Burns and Billoah Greene.
Format: Color, Closed-captioned, Widescreen
Rated: NR
Studio: Wolfe Video
DVD Release Date: June 14, 2005
Run Time: 90 min
DVD Features:
- 7 Deleted Scenes
- Audio Commentary tracks by Director Rodney Evans and Lead Actor Anthony Mackie
- An in-depth video interview with Director Rodney Evans on the making of the film
theatrical trailer


The opening scene of Brother to Brother shows our protagonist Perry (Anthony Mackie), a young gay Black artist and student, writing in his journal as he rides the subway to an unknown destination. In a voiceover we hear Perry say, "There are thoughts that have the power to trap me. I write them down to be more honest about them and lessen their potential to do harm. There's a war inside me." It is this war and these thoughts that are the focus of Rodney Evans' film and a central theme in the marginal existence of gay Black people everywhere. It is the question of community and belonging. While Perry shares the common bond and experience of being Black in America he finds himself alienated from the Black community because he is gay. He also fears being rejected or not understood by white Americans, straight and gay, because of his race. Where does he belong? How does he deal with the existential angst caused by being Black in America and by being gay in Black America?

Perry finds himself struggling with these central themes of gay Black life shortly after he has been thrown out of his parent's house when they learned he was gay. Simultaneously he is at odds with his peers in a civil rights class when it comes to understanding the contributions gays, such as James Baldwin, have made to the struggle for equality. Additionally, he questions whether or not Jim (Alex Burns), a white student, is attracted to him because of who he is or because he his Black.

In the midst of his emotional crisis, Perry develops a friendship with Richard Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson), an older gay Black artist, who was an important though little known figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Nugent shares his experiences of the Harlem Renaissance with Perry allowing him to find answers to the questions weighing heavily on him.

Nugent's oral history of the Harlem Renaissance is shown in black and white flashback sequences that are beautifully shot and expertly integrated into the contemporary story. Through these flashbacks we gain an understanding of how Nugent's relationship with Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata), Zora Neale Hurston (Aunjanue Ellis), and Wallace Thurman (Ray Ford) impacted his life and more importantly the creative output of the Harlem Renaissance. The flashbacks also do an excellent job of highlighting the longstanding practice in Black America to force individuals (i.e. homosexuals) that do not meet the standard of respectability into the corners of Black life.

Anthony Mackie's portrayal of Perry is sensitive and multi-dimensional. The relationship between Nugent and Perry feels organic and makes one wish he had a similar guide through life. The film is not without its flaws including the major anachronism that Richard Bruce Nugent died in 1987 though Perry's class discussion revolves around the 1992 LA Riots. Though flawed, Evans masterfully explores the subjects of sexual identity within the Black community and the intersection between racial and sexual identity in a complex and nuanced way that is rarely seen in film. Evans has successfully tackled a subject that some of the greatest scholars in the field of African American Studies have not been willing and/or able to explore.

When Perry returns to his parent's house to get books out of the cellar, his father tells him "anything you left in this house does not exist." I would argue that for the longest time gay Black America has found itself forced into the cellar and its existence denied by its straight brothers and sisters. Rodney Evans' film is one small part of a long struggle to open the cellar door and let in the light.