Review – Get on the Bus (1996)

by Armando Vanegas

Get on the Bus is a Spike Lee drama that was released on the one-year anniversary of the Million Man March event, which was an event on October 21, 1995 in which a large portion of the black community came together in Washington, D.C. to come together to hear Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan speak of all the injustice going on in the black community and put a focus on the social and economic issues in that community into the forefront. The movie focuses on a group of black men sharing the same bus from South Central, Los Angeles to go to the Million Man March and the way they interact with each other along the way.

I loved a lot of stuff individually more than as a whole movie. The opening and the last act are probably too uneven to fully love. It takes quite a bit of time to fully get to know these people and be comfortable with the fact that you’re going to be with them the whole movie. A lot of these characters have too rough around the edges to really be behind. Even as a black man, it’s hard to totally sympathize or get behind some of them because they have really problematic ideas sometimes. It also doesn’t allow itself to breathe at the beginning but once you get into its rhythm, you begin to see how complex these characters really are.
Roger Guenveur Smith is a cop that some of the guys on the bus don’t consider black because he’s biracial and was raised by his white mom after his black cop father died. The fact that he’s a cop inspires interesting food for thought. All the problems we’ve seen with black men deal with cops the past few months made this feel emotionally resonant and sadly prescient. The back and forth he has with Gabriel Casseus as a former gang banger turned devout Muslim results in some great little moments of internal conflict between the characters. I usually love Smith because he usually leans into the bigger, broader characters that it’s kind of disappointing to see him not be a bigger name in general. He definitely could’ve been the black Nicolas Cage considering most of his other Spike Lee performances and his role in Deep Cover. He has a weird, spastic energy to him that makes him stand out in stuff. He’s great here playing against type as one of the more level headed guys on the bus.
There’s a gay couple on the bus that everyone freaks out about and the amount of times the other characters use the F-word so excessively that you can synthesize that word into gold and probably be a millionaire 5 times over and buy out all the homophobic bakeries in America. Harry Lennix and Isaiah Washington are good as the couple even if the movie doesn’t get too deep into their relationship. I like the fact that it even tries to discuss homophobia in the black community and because the movie is intentionally meandering, I was disappointed when it didn’t stay on that moment because it was interesting to see that stuff portrayed and have that conflict with the other characters.
Andre Braugher is the biggest homophobe in the group and the biggest asshole in the movie. When someone finally stands up to him after he’s been running his mouth for so long, it’s pretty awesome. He’s also a misogynist that likes to brag about all the women he sleeps with. It’s weird to see Braugher in this kind of role especially when you know Brooklyn Nine-Nine exists, but he sells it well. He’s always great and it’s nice to see him play such an antagonistic character, which allows him to be more outgoing than I usually see him in as an actor.
Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Lee fans may best remember him as Delroy Lindo’s right hand man in Clockers) plays a father who’s chained to his son as a court order as the son was recently arrested for a misdemeanor. Like the Ossie Davis character, I feel like I’ve seen this kind of complicated father and son relationship, but Byrd does such a fantastic job giving his character a lot of layers as he struggles to connect with his son on the trip. He was recently in the news as he was sadly murdered in Atlanta and it’s unfortunate that such a wonderful talent was taken from us.
Hill Harper is fine but he’s just there to be a stand-in of Spike Lee. You know this because he’s the guy filming the entire trip on a camcorder and someone even calls him “Spike Lee, Jr.” Wendell Pierce has a fun moment as a black Republican that thinks all these black men need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and uses the Million Man March as a way to sell cars. This is the best part of the movie as it’s very lively and confrontational in a way the rest of the movie isn’t and how he gets his just desserts is a nice capper at the end of it.
Ossie Davis is there to be the wise black man and it’s like I’ve seen this all before, especially since he’s in so many other Spike Lee movies. His monologue at the end about his life, while good, feels derivative but maybe because there’s so many movies like this I’ve seen over the past few years that I was just numb to it this time. He’s good but he’s done this role a bunch of times in various ways. His character has a big event happen in the last act that makes the movie longer than it needs to be. It’s a big, impactful moment, but it feels like you’ve already got a full meal from all the subject matter being discussed for 2 hours that you’re ready for this to be done.
The movie’s at its best when the men are challenged about their ideas. Like the fact that this was an event that Louis Farrakhan set up and there’s probably a ton of problematic things to find about him that questions why people would follow him. He has a lot of really hateful views from what I read about him in places. He’s anti-Semitic, supports Trump, and thought Hitler had a lot of good ideas. Also, nice to see black women be excluded from the experience as they do so much for the community. Seriously, are we sure that this is the guy we want to lead us into victory? But it was the 1990s and nobody was proactive enough to actually look into the background of who they supported so I guess it tracked for the time. It was an admirable way to make sure we as a people were recognized even if the source behind was probably not the best guy for the job. I did appreciate that this movie touched on Farrakhan’s flaws as a would be leader even if it didn’t directly confront it.
I find it interesting that some of the guys (such as Charles S. Dutton’s bus driver) are just like, “He’s a black leader and he says the right things and has the power to change things and of course, he’s black and I’m black” and part of me thought if this is the same thought process as how people got behind Donald Trump. Even though they hide it behind the fact that he has the obvious façade of being a smart businessman that dumb people could buy when it allows their long dormant white supremacy driving their decisions. Clearly, the guys in this movie as well as the everyone involved in the march surely meant better as they was just asking to recognized and noticed as there was a lot of issues that non-black people just happened to overlook at the time. The issues the march was attempt to challenge were so big that it probably helps to put everything else about Farrakhan under the radar. It was a good idea even if it didn’t change much politically, economically, or socially.
I’m just a guy behind a keyboard and I don’t read all the time so I’m not a big political expert, but this quarantine has made me more aware of stuff and it scares me. But the point is maybe don’t just get behind people because they’re black and the movie shows not much has changed and things have probably gotten worse like my mom was saying even when Obama was in office. A lot of this also comes down to the fact that people should make sure to read what’s going on and truly understand what horse you want to back before you actually back it. Hopefully, things will change for the better soon. But even if things get better, there’s going to be a lot of work to do.
I am giving Get on the Bus a 3.5 out of 5 Hairpieces!
#GetontheBus #SpikeLee #MovieReview #Vote2020 #ElectionDay

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