In 1995, a bus full of men are heading Washington D.C. to attend Farrakhan’s Million Man March for black rights. They include a father and son tethered together (Thomas Jefferson Byrd and De’aundre Bonds), a mixed race cop (Roger Guenveur Smith), an actor (Andre Braugher) and an old man down on his luck (Ossie Davis).
What’s so clever about this film is that on the surface a group of men going to the same political march doesn’t appear to be the most diverse microcosm in which to observe society. Yet Lee’s selection of characters allows for a look at racism, homophobia, sexism, parenting, religion and poverty, all within a space of about 30 square meters. The one thing this group has in common is their belief in the oppression of the black community, but they find plenty of room for disagreement elsewhere.
The examination of the other prejudices of the group, such as towards the gay characters and the white bus driver, feeds in to Lee’s even handed approach that we’ve seen throughout this series. He has no desire to present a holier-than-thou view of the black community, and is once again critical of some of the views within it. Having said that the lack of criticism of racist, anti-semitic, conspiracy theorist Farrakhan means this film hasn’t aged particularly well from that perspective.
The setting of the film, on a bus to a march for racial equality, avoids the occasional problem with Lee films of making characters seem obsessed with race. The fact that the characters talk about racial issues on this bus is hardly surprising. In fact it would look strange if they didn’t. So it avoids the problem found in films like Jungle Fever where the characters just seem obsessed with the colour of people’s skin.
It’s also an engaging and moving road movie which is never boring in spite of being set mostly on a bus. There’s some good music and the well written dialogue keeps it feeling fresh.The characters are all interesting and believable in the way they bounce off each other, which is really the most important thing in such a tightly focused film. Get on the Bus has heart as well as a head, and is one of Lee’s strongest all-round movies.
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