Screen Gems

Anthony Mackie as a gay man, uncovering the secret queer history of the Harlem Renaissance

Brother to Brother

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a rewatch.

The Overlooked: Brother to Brother

Anthony Mackie (Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) gave a terrific, if little-seen early performance in this drama from director Rodney Evans. Brother to Brother won major awards at Sundance and Outfest, only get lost in the shuffle upon wide release back in 2004.

The film tells the story of Perry, (Mackie) a gay college student disowned by his family for his homosexuality. While studying art, he develops a friendship with Bruce (Roger Robinson), an elderly black, gay artist who lived through the Harlem Renaissance. For Perry, Bruce’s recollection of figures like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin offer a connection to history–gay African-American history–that Perry has needed his entire life, and that offer a guide map to surviving still-present homophobia and racism in the 21st century.

It’s important to remember that LGBTQ history has really only entered the mainstream in the past decade. Any queer person of a certain age will recall a time when identifying gay historical heroes, or learning about the evolution and influence of queer culture was nearly impossible. Even in 2004, queer history tomes were confined almost exclusively to books and a few films which usually didn’t appear on the shelf at Blockbuster. Brother to Brother recalls that yearning for history and guidance that young LGBTQ people–particularly people of color–faced in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, and after centuries of gay erasure.

But we digress. Mackie and Robinson both give splendid performances in Brother to Brother, which plays as something of a queer fantasy: we all would be lucky to meet a mentor as warm, talented and knowledgable as Bruce. Their relationship helps Perry to understand the meaning of the intersectionality between his sexual orientation and his race. As a director, Rodney Evans announced himself as a thoughtful, passionate and sensual filmmaker; it’s no wonder some critics declared him the gay answer to Spike Lee. Personal, ambitious and occasionally didactic, we recommend giving it a watch as a lesson in gay, African-American history, and a touching story of friendship.

Streams on Amazon & YouTube.