The story of a young artist coming to grips with his cultural and sexual identity, Rodney Evans’s fictionalized Brother to Brother looks back to the pioneering days of the Harlem Renaissance and traces its spiritual manifestation in present day New York City. At a homeless shelter he works at, Perry (Anthony Mackie) meets Richard Bruce Nugent (Ray Robinson), a real-life player in the New Negro Movement and close friend of Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, and Wallace Thurman. Evans daringly conflates the struggles of the past with the struggles of the present, paralleling at one point brutal scenes from the Civil Right’s Movement with a celebration of gay pride. Throughout the film, black culture is seen in a constant state of flux: For Perry, sex is politics, and his belief that there’s much work to be done within the black community positions him as a modern-day James Baldwin. Ostracized by his family and his race, Perry attempts to negotiate his loneliness by confronting his people with their shameful disregard of their homosexual brothers and sisters. Via Perry’s relationship with a cute skater boy named Jim (Alex Burns), the director engages the fetishization of race and subtly wonders what the “caucazoid” Jim’s line about Perry’s “sweet black ass” has to say about this white boy’s affinity to black culture and what—if anything—it has to do with Perry’s own sexual hang-ups. And in the black-and-white sequences between a younger Nugent (Duane Boutte) and his author friends, Evans similarly evokes a community of freedom fighters ostracized by their own community and whose art is reconfigured by the dominant white patriarchy. Like bell hooks, Evans gives serious consideration to the issue of masculine identity within the black community, understanding that many social issues that grip society are inextricably bound. But while Brother to Brother‘s obsession with race and representation may be intellectual, its justified anger and inquisitiveness is tempered with great sensitivity.
Brother to Brother isn't an attractive looking film but the people at Wolfe seem to have obviously done the best they could with it: In spite of the occasional loss of sharpness that's typical of so many other movies that have been shot on video, transferred to film, and transferred back to video, the presentation is clean. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is a good one: Dialogue is clear throughout, as is the lovely score by Marc Anthony Thompson.
Director Rodney Evans's commentary track is largely about the behind-the-scenes hassles of shooting the film (par for course for a first-time director), and though Anthony Mackie's track is spotty and dispassionately laidback, the actor's own recollections of these on-set dramas are more engaging; both tracks, though, noticeably come alive whenever Evans and Mackie attack the meat of the film's past-present dialectic, usually whenever the action shifts from the modern-day color scenes to the black-and-white scenes from the Harlem Renaissance. Also included here is the film's theatrical trailer, a 20-minute interview with Evans that allows the director to cover a lot of the terrain that goes uncharted in his commentary track, a collection of pretty solid deleted scenes, and a montage of other gay-friendly Wolfe titles.
Wolfe delivers a solid DVD package for Rodney Evans's Brother to Brother.