Get On The Bus

on October 18, 1996 by Joseph McBride
In covering October 1995's Million Man March, the white mainstream media focused largely on its controversial organizer, Louis Farrakhan, whose presence eclipsed the real drama of AfricanAmerican men coming together from all over the country to reexamine their lives. Spike Lee has rectified the imbalance in his ambitious, exuberantly entertainingh) and deeply moving "Get on the Bus," which follows the journey of 15 men in a bus from SouthCentral L.A. to Washington, D.C. Farrakhan is barely glimpsed in the film, which portrays him with ambivalence, ironically doesn't spend much time at the actual march, and has bus driver George ("A Time to Kill's" Charles Dutton) say at the end, "The real Million Man March won't start 'til we black men take charge of our own lives."
   Shot in Super16 with mostly handheld cameras, a budget of only $2.4 million and a threeweek shooting schedule, "Get on the Bus" was wholly financed by a group of 15 black men, including actors Danny Glover and Wesley Snipes, O.J. Simpson attorney Johnny Cochran, and Lee himself. The roughandready style of the film, which takes place largely on the bus, masks the solid craftsmanship of Reggie Rock Bythewood's superb screenplay, which makes the diverse characters richly individualized while also enabling them to stand as a microcosm for the AfricanAmerican male community.
   Lee and Bythewood largely avoid the didactic temptations inherent in the subject matter, using the men's interpersonal conflicts to explore a wide range of social issues, from homophobia and antiSemitism (a Jewish driver played by Richard Belzer leaves the bus in protest against Farrakhan) to the problems of lightskinned blacks and guiltridden absentee fathers. Only rarely, as in a finale that lapses into rhetorical overkill, does "Get on the Bus" fail to let its messages emerge naturally from the material. But the audience by then has become so involved with these characters that such an indulgence seems almost pardonable, given the urgency of the subject matter. One of the film's most impressive achievements is that it doesn't let on what most of the characters do for a living until we get to know them well as people, thereby avoiding social stereotyping and keeping them lively and surprising. Standouts in the ensemble include Ossie Davis, in an Oscarcaliber role as a troubled but magisterial elder; Dutton as the highly professional and principled driver; Andre Braugher as a hotheaded wannabe actor; Hill Harper as a student videomaker nicknamed "Spike Lee Jr."; and Thom Byrd and DeAundre Bonds as an anguished father and son who find kinship along the way. "Get on the Bus" doesn't tie up every conflict into a neat package, but uses the bus journey as an effective metaphor for the need of an embattled community to pull together for sustenance and survival. Not only is this film a mustsee for African Americans, it will enlighten and inspire any white moviegoers who open their minds enough to take the journey along with them. Starring Charles Dutton, Andre Braugher, Ossie Davis, Thom Byrd and DeAundre Bonds. Directed by Spike Lee. Written by Reggie Rock Bythewood. Produced by Reuben Cannon, Barry Rosenbush and Bill Borden. A Columbia release. Drama. Rated R for language. Running time: 121 min. Opened wide 10/16/96
Tags: Charles Dutton, Andre Braugher, Ossie Davis, Thom Byrd, DeAundre Bonds, Spike Lee, Reggie Rock Bythewood, Reuben Cannon, Barry Rosenbush, Bill Borden, Columbia, Drama

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