Word on the “Black cinema” streets is that Brotherly Love is the new Juice or Boyz N The Hood. Based on the trailer, the homage is clear with its cute homegirls, shady drug dealers and “a dollar and a dream” prototypes. The elements are there to make Brotherly Love a potential successor. But as much as you’ll want to laud Jamal Hill‘s passion project, it will not be as iconic as the films before it. With hopes of a dual fanbase from the Instagram generation and original movie-goers of Menace II Society, the film transpires more as a tribute than a true slice of life as a Black youth in 2015.
It took almost ten years for Brotherly Love to come to life until Queen Latifah‘s Flavor Unit gave the green light. As the title suggests, it takes place in Philadelphia, but in the Western region which is notoriously more crime and drug-ridden. The focus is on the Taylor family. Their mother (played by Macy Gray, always fantastic in her acting roles) chain smokes home all-day and the eldest child June (Cory Hardrict) is the sole provider and guidance for his teen siblings. Sergio (Eric D. Hill Jr.) is a talented basketball player eying the NBA and baby of the family Jackie (Keke Palmer) is a good girl amongst the fast streets and aspires to be a singer.
Jackie’s presence is a distinct highlight because, while early ’90s Black films definitely had female characters, they weren’t always as fleshed out or as prominent as the men. Some exceptions include Jada Pinkett Smith as Lyric in 1994’s Jason’s Lyric and the leading cast of 1996’s Set It Off. And speaking of that ’94 film, it looks like we’ve found our new Allen Payne. As the Jason to Palmer’s Lyric, Quincy Brown (yes, Diddy’s step-son and Al B. Sure‘s offspring) is Chris Collins in Brotherly Love. And while unaware of his intentions at first with Jackie, the two form a puppy-love bond and Brown is 100% swoon-worthy nearly every time he’s on-screen.
Aside from that teen dream inclusion, the script is formulaic. Like its predecessors, it tries to tackle the issues of brotherhood and loyalty in the Black community. Former events are explained throughout the film and the Taylor siblings experience a whirlwind of achievement, revenge and death. June is determined to make sure his siblings stay on the right path, but he himself behaves as if he’s a lost cause. At his core, he is heartbroken because once their father had passed away, he abandoned his own hoop dreams to become a drug dealer. Hardrict plays his role like it’s his coming-out party (he recently starred in Clint Eastwood‘s American Sniper). And there are relics to the characters of Bishop and “Doughboy” famously played by Tupac Shakur and Ice Cube in Juice and Boyz N The Hood.
Generally speaking, the acting is standard in Brotherly Love. There are minor heartfelt moments and one particular twist and shocker that will make any suspense screenwriter nod with approval. There isn’t much to criticize the script for aside from its familiar territory.
What Brotherly Love lacks, however, is that documentary-style sensibility that dominated those 90s classic. Films like Juice and Menace II Society effortlessly connected to the current events of its day and even the local lifestyle and jargon of New York City or South Central L.A. were included as supporting characteristics. John Singleton‘s Boyz N The Hood, an impressively-layered take on Black-on-Black crime and police brutality in South Central, arrived just four months after Rodney King was viciously beaten by four White policemen on an L.A. highway in 1991. Singleton wasn’t merely imitating life in his art. His film further analyzed it. And the timing was remarkable. Brotherly Love barely contributes anything new to the storytelling of inner-city life. To target this movie as the new generation’s Boyz, Juice, or Menace is unfair and places it in a space that’s already been so culturally and significantly defined.
Brotherly Love attempted to be the film of our current time frame of “Black Lives Matters.” But we are still in search or waiting for that one film so honest and unique to the life as a Black girl or boy in the 21st century.