Blog Directory CineVerse: A different kind of undocumented immigrant

A different kind of undocumented immigrant

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hollywood dished out a fair amount of films depicting benevolent aliens who come to earth, from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial to Starman and The Brother From Another Planet. CineVerse focused on the latter last night. What follows are the key discussion points.

What caught you by surprise about The Brother From Another Planet that you didn’t see coming?
  • It’s a science-fiction film that doesn’t rely on special effects or exaggerated action sequences to entertain audiences.
  • It’s a comedy that doesn’t go for cheap laughs, body humor, or cliché gags. Instead, this film plays as a humorous parable or comedic social message movie.
  • It features very few known or famous actors, yet, as proven in so many low-budget independent films by talented filmmakers, it doesn’t need A-list stars to be effective or satisfying.
  • The film’s running gag—that the alien doesn’t talk—continues throughout the entire movie. Even E.T. and, from the same year, Starman learned to talk or attempted normal speech.
  • The cinematography is colorful and crisp, depicting an urban environment brimming with life and detail; consider that the movie was photographed by Ernest Dickerson, known for his memorable visuals in Spike Lee joints like Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Jungle Fever.
Ideas at work within this picture include
  • Racial prejudice, class struggles, economic inequality, and oppression of minorities and immigrants
  • The sad truth that human beings often judge each other by the color of their skin, which an extraterrestrial would likely find illogical
  • A fish out of water, or stranger in a strange land
  • Escape and pursuit—the hunted and the hunters
  • The universal appeal of liberty, independence and equality—which can transcends this earthly estate, assuming there is other intelligent life in the universe.
    • Film critic Jessica Ritchey wrote: “The Brother From Another Planet is not a blueprint on how to save the world, but a warm, humane guide on how to live in it. Not passively accepting injustice and looking the other way, but rather how to get through the day-to-day business of living and surviving: How to know who to trust and who can be counted on; How to send a message for help; How to find and build communities. That the cast is predominantly people of color is no coincidence, where until recently questions of survival in oppressive systems, or fun bits of escapism for white audiences, have become an uncomfortable reality. The film is vital in illustrating how paying attention to, listening to and following POC will be essential in the fight for everyone's future.”
Other movies and works that The Brother From Another Planet brings to mind
  • Films about benevolent aliens, including The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • Robert Heinlein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land
  • Men in Black
  • Being There, another film in which people project their own expectations and emotions upon a silent and expressionless character, seeing in him what they want to see
  • Silent comedies by the likes of pantomime masters like Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin
Other works directed by John Sayles
  • Return of the Secaucus 7
  • Matewan
  • Eight Men Out
  • City of Hope
  • Passion Fish
  • Lone Star

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