Sunday, August 5, 2018

Movie Review: Get on the Bus (1996)

Get on the Bus (1996)
Directed by: Spike Lee.
Written by: Reggie Rock Bythewood.
Starring: Charles S. Dutton (George), Ossie Davis (Jeremiah aka Pop), Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Evan), De’Aundre Bonds (Evan Jr.), Isaiah Washington (Kyle), Henry Lennix (Randall), Andre Braugher (Flip), Roger Guenveur Smith (Gary), Hill Harper (Xavier), Gabriel Casseus (Jamal), Bernie Mac (Jay), Steve White (Mike), Albert Hall (Craig), Richard Belzer (Rick), Wendell Pierce (Wendell Perry), Kristen Wilson (Shelly Maxwell), Paula Jai Parker (Jamilia), Gina Ravera (Gina), Joie Lee (Jindal), Randy Quaid (Tennessee State Trooper).
Out of all of Spike Lee’s films, Get on the Bus is probably the simplest and most straight forward. He raised the budget of $2.4 million from 15 black men (including himself) and shot the whole film in 3 weeks, with pretty much every scene in the film either in, or around a bus. That bus is travelling from L.A. to D.C. in the fall of 1995 in order for the men on board to attend the Million Man March, a march on Washington organized by Louis Farrakhan, the controversial head of the Nation of Islam. Lee made the film quickly, so it could be released on the 1 year anniversary of the March.
The men on the bus are all different from each other – and that, I think, is Lee’s ultimate point with the film. The March was organized by Farrakhan, and the film doesn’t dodge the things he has said and done which are controversial or the things he has said that were undeniably anti-Semitic. But the film wants to show that the men who arrived in Washington – and marched on there – represented much more than the Nation of Islam. It wants to make it clear that you cannot paint all black men with the same brush – which is something that happens all too often in the media.
The tour is led by George (Charles S. Dutton) – he’s a driver for the bus company, and he organized it. He tries to keep everyone together, everyone upbeat even as they face challenges along the way. The senior member of the group is Pop (Ossie Davis) – full of stories about the past, and how important this march is. There’s also Evan and his son Evan Jr. (Thomas Jefferson Byrd and De’Aundre Bonds) – who are shackled together by court order – an act whose symbolism is lost on no one. Kyle and Randall (Isaiah Washington and Henry Lennix) are a gay couple in the process of breaking up. Flip (Andre Braugher) is a cocky, confident actor – who is the most outspoken homophobe on the bus (but not the only one). Roger Guenveur Smith is Gary a half white cop, whose father was also a cop “killed by a brother” – who shouldn’t have to prove he’s black to the others, but some disagree. Hill Harper is a young USC student, making a documentary about the trip. Jamal (Gabriel Casseus) is a former gang banger, who has now found Allah and turned his life around. There are others – they mainly stay in the background though. Richard Belzer plays the Jewish replacement driver who comes aboard at one point – but cannot stay. He cannot bring himself to drive to a rally organized by a man who called Judaism a “gutter” religion, and praised Hitler. Wendell Pierce plays a wealthy car dealer, who joins for a short time, and says the most racist, anti-black things in the whole movie – thinking that being black buys him an excuse. The others disagree.
By its very nature, the film is simple and direct. You do get to know the characters, but none of them are overly complex – they are by and large, a group of strangers when they board the bus, and will probably remain so once they get off again in L.A. They are brought together for this trip – they are all taking for different reasons. And there-in lies the point. The Million Man March was important even if you don’t like Farrakhan – he is barely seen in the archival footage from the event shown – not given the spotlight that say Maya Angelou is given. The Million Man March brought together all sorts of different black men – who for a short time were united. Get on the Bus is not a great film – but it’s a valuable document of an important event.

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