Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Brotherly Love [2015]

MPAA (R)  AALBC (3/4 Stars) Examiner (5/5 Stars)  M Report (3/5 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

BET coverage

AALBC (K. Williams) review
Atlanta Voice (P. Dowels) review
Chicago Defender (S. Jobson) review
L.A. Sentinel (D. Cralle) review
N.Y. Examiner (B. Taylor) review
Philadephia Citypaper (M. Bevilacqua) review
SWGRus (T. Johnson) review
The M Report (M. Wallace) review

Brotherly Love [2015] (screenplay and directed by Jamal Hill) produced by Queen Latifah's [IMDb] Flavor Unit is an African American teen-oriented film that could be described as John Hughes [IMDb] meets Tyler Perry [IMDb] meeting the Boyz in the Hood [1992].  This makes for an _interesting_ if at times problematic (but ever _thought provoking_) combination.

The story largely plays-out at Overbrook High School in the largely African American Overbrook neighborhood of Philadelphia (the film's title is clearly in part a play on meaning of Philadelphia's name as "The City of Brotherly Love" ...).  The neighborhood turns out to be quite well-suited for this story because even though it is almost entirely African American it is divided into two sections, the quite wealthy "Hills" and the much poorer "Bottoms."  (As a matter of note, actor Will Smith [IMDb], as well as basketball star Wilt Chamberlain both attended Overbrook High School in their teens).  As such, the film is able to include a fairly large cross-section of African American teenagers.

The story centers around three siblings ("brothers" in the most general sense, hence another "play" present in the title): The oldest is June (played by Cory Hardrict) in his early 20s. Next was Sergio (played by Eric D. Hill, Jr) a Senior at Overbrook High and a rising basketball star.   Finally, there was the "baby", Jackie (played by Keke Palmer), who I'm guessing was a sophomore or junior at the high school and part of its cheerleader squad.  Interestingly enough, the story is told largely through the perspective of Jackie whose voice-over at the beginning of the film helps set the stage and occasional further voice-overs help to quickly introduce further information (again, from her perspective) to continue the story.  Together, with their mom (played by Macy Gray) they lived in a house in the "Bottoms," that is, poorer part of the neighborhood.

So far so good... We're told then by Jackie's voice-over that June was a gangster, that he dropped-out of school at 15-16 after their father, also a gangster, was shot and killed, to take care of the family.  Jackie informs us of this with both the matter-of-factness and arguably _the innocence_ of a 15-16 year old, telling us, "As June would say, 'sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do."  We learn later that June had some talent with the basketball as well..., but sacrificed _his future_ for the sake of the others.

The film then shows June and his two buddies making a good deal of money, carrying around and stowing away a good deal of money, shaking down local (illegal) gambling houses and businesses.  One would imagine that June's work would have been even seedier than that..., but a point was being made.  It was clear that June was NOT making money by his being "a nice guy."  He was making money by being A FEARED GUY.  And if anyone doubted who he was, or his rank / position in the neighborhood, he wore a rather impressively THICK (and hence noticeably HEAVY) gold chain _around his neck_, instantly indicating to anyone who _he's stop_ that he's someone to be reckoned with (again to be FEARED) ... even as he cared for ma' and his little brother and sister ... and as time goes on, that gold chain "around his neck" starts to be understood (by the film's Viewers) ALSO ... _as a noose_ ...

June appears to be something of a young 20-something African American "Vito Corleone" character (a la The Godfather [1972]), someone who "if circumstances were different, would also be different" and wished that circumstances would become different for his family.   But it's clear that even within June's family, there were people who didn't like / rejected the reasoning of the choices that he's made.  The kids have an uncle, Ron (played by Faizon Love), a barber, who pointedly reminded (a la Tyler Perry [IMDb]), his stars-in-his-eyes / hoop-dreaming nephew Sergio: "Look son, after a while you get to see that the people who really succeed in life, don't really succeed because of their talents.  They succeed because of their character."

And that then becomes the message of the film.

June is not necessarily an evil guy but he has chosen an evil path, and it's more or less clear that it can't end well for him.  Yes, thanks to June's sacrifice, Sergio and Jackie have more choices.  But then this is high school, BOTH "a time of innocence" AND "a time when one's choices begin to matter." How do they do?  The rest of the story follows ...

This film is a discussion inviting film.  I do think that the film's portrayal of June will be problematic to many viewers of all stripes.  But I do think that he was _intentionally_ drawn that way both to make the rest of the story more "real" (more visceral) and to remind viewers that even gangsters have their (back)stories as well as people who they care about.

Does the film glorify June's choices (and, look it's not much of a SPOILER to say that his story can't end well)?  That's certainly one aspect of the film that invites discussion.  But precisely because his life does not end well, and _clearly_ does not end well, IMHO, I don't think the film glorifies his path.  Better alternatives are offered in the film throughout.

But if nothing else, the film leaves plenty to talk about, especially among teens, when it ends.

So overall, good job Mr Hill, and Queen Latifah [IMDb], as well as the cast / crew!  Good job ;-)

FINALLY, there's a scene near the end of the film that probably would deserve a whole second article / review to explore.  In it, A WHITE POLICE OFFICER is shown saving an AFRICAN AMERICAN TEEN from a CAREER ENDING / LIFE ALTERING "bad choice."  Readers remember that this is an African American oriented film made from top-to-bottom by an African American director, cast, crew and an African American owned production company.   SO A STATEMENT WAS INTENTIONALLY BEING MADE HERE: Cops of all races/ethnicities are GENERALLY GOOD and THEY ARE APPRECIATED. 

I live in a city-worker parish at the south edge of a far rougher part of Chicago, home to, actually A LOT of Chicago Police Officers, about evenly split 1/2 and 1/2 between white and Hispanic.  I also REGULARLY CELEBRATE MASS in the Parishes north of us (the parishioners being mostly Hispanic or African American, with even some Haitians) and I know that THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE RESIDENTS APPRECIATE THE PRESENCE OF THE POLICE.  If anything, they wish there'd see more of them.

Yes, no doubt there are SOME "bad cops" as there'd be bad (and RACIST) people in all Professions ... INCLUDING in the Catholic Priesthood ... but here is AN AFRICAN AMERICAN FILM that's saying THANK YOU TO THE GOOD ONES.

And I know for certain that the good ones appreciate it.  ONCE AGAIN, GOOD JOB. 

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