My Brother's Wedding

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
My Brother's Wedding Movie Poster Image
'80s film about family strife has mature themes.
  • NR
  • 1985
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Anger doesn't get you anywhere, even when there's good reason to be angry. Life is unfair. Help those in need.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Pierce holds others' success against them but says the reason he's not successful is that he's not "smart." He wants a woman who has a 9-to-5 job, cooks, and can "bring him all the money."

 

Violence

The aftermath of a bad car crash is seen: smashed car, people on stretchers, EMTs and police working to save people. CPR is used unsuccessfully on someone. A father and grown son constantly wrestle playfully. An older man suggests that in the old days a man's worth was "determined by the amount of cotton he chopped in a day." Someone asks if Pierce is "retarded." The reply is no, "just ghetto-ized." A man is shown pressing a woman to have sex with him in the back of a store. A store owner reaches for a hidden gun when she thinks she's about to be robbed.

Sex

A man fresh out of jail boasts that he needs to have sex with a new, different woman every day. He pushes a seemingly unwilling woman into the back of a store to have sex. She'd rather go to a motel, but he wants it at that moment. He is seen shirtless lying on top of her. They are caught by the store owner, who nearly faints. A teenage girl flirts with an older man. A man who is lying on top of a woman he's having sex with summons his friend to bring him a glass of water.

 

Language

"S--t" and "ass."

 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A drug problem in the community is mentioned several times. Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that My Brother's Wedding is a slice of 1980s life in a struggling Los Angeles Black community as depicted by acclaimed director Charles Burnett (To Sleep with Anger and Killer of Sheep) early in his career. Perhaps owing to limited funds, this heartfelt piece seems to feature inexperienced actors and a meandering storytelling style that will make its message difficult to absorb for all but the most dedicated viewers. The film touches on crime in an impoverished Black neighborhood, the cycle of imprisonment of young Black men, and the lack of education and employment opportunities that create an oppressive atmosphere. Men and women kiss. A young girl tries to get the sexual attention of an older man. A man is shown pressing a woman to have sex with him in the back of a store. They're later seen together, although no body parts are shown. Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. A local drug problem is mentioned. Language includes "s--t" and "ass." An older man suggests that in the old days a man's worth was "determined by the amount of cotton he chopped in a day." Someone asks if Pierce is "retarded." The reply is no, "just ghetto-ized."

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What's the story?

MY BROTHER'S WEDDING is set in South Central Los Angeles of the 1980s, where Pierce (Everett Silas) is 30 and seemingly waiting for a better life to come along. He went to technical school, but the jobs didn't materialize, so he's working at his parents' dry-cleaning store, where his religious mom doles out charity as often as she reaches for a gun behind the counter when she senses "customers" are really thieves. His brother Wendell, a lawyer, is marrying up, to a lawyer named Sonia (Gaye Shannon-Burnett, the director's wife). Her upper-middle-class family irks Pierce. Pierce claims it's because he despises doctors and lawyers, who in his view are all crooks. Yet he embraces his criminal friend Soldier (Ronald E. Bell), a selfish lout who has been in and out of jail, abuses women, and seems to have no use for a job. Will Pierce get past his bitterness to be the best man in the wedding?

Is it any good?

This is an important film about Black life in South Central Los Angeles of the 1980s, but it's not a good film. Many viewers may find much to appreciate here in its authenticity, in its depiction of people who maintain their dignity in the face of financial struggle, in a dedication to decency and an affinity for Christian values, all slamming into the chaos and oppression of poverty, racism, crime, unwed pregnancy, police abuse, bad schools, drug use, and joblessness. Burnett does justice to a Black world, the way Toni Morrison did in her novels -- a world that's a proudly distinct and separate entity that may suffer under White prejudice but doesn't depend on White influence for its identity.

The trouble is, for all the director-writer's efforts, Burnett couldn't make a good film with a shallow script and inexperienced actors. Neither the stilted dialogue nor the actors dig deep enough to express the underlying truth Burnett is clearly and earnestly striving to present. As written, the character of 30-year-old Pierce seems bright and decent, but we're never shown why he's stuck and lacks the tools to move forward, unlike his brother, who is a lawyer. With no carefully constructed true dramatic arc, My Brother's Wedding poses a false choice at the end that no real person would leave to the last minute to make. This is a monotone movie where no event, no matter how substantial, is given more weight than any other. Note that Burnett's rough cut was finished in the 1980s, when the film was unable to find a distributor. In 2007, Burnett edited it again to an hour and 20 minutes, 37 minutes shorter than the originally shown version. It's now clear that in terms of film quality, the edit wasn't the problem.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether things have changed for inner-city people of color economically since My Brother's Wedding was made. How do you think situations depicted here connect to Black Lives Matter protests of today?

  • Pierce directs his anger at rich Black people. Why do you think he's angry at them?

  • How does this story suggest that forces from outside the community -- prejudice, crime, policing, drugs -- rather than intrinsic weaknesses have made it difficult for Black people to succeed?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love African American stories

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