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Get On The Bus  

Starring: Ossie Davis, Charles S. Dutton, Andre Braugher, Richard Belzer, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Harry Lennix, Isaiah Washington, Roger Guenveur Smith Directed by: Spike Lee Written by: Reggie Rock Blythewood Rated R Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

Racism is wrong. No question about it. But I also believe it's wrong to perch oneself atop the shoulders of bigots for purely self-serving reasons. That's why racism doesn't necessarily make a good "talk show" topic - too often, it is broken down into simpler terms; a "bigot" versus "non-bigots". There is much more to it than that. When a wide variety of races, cultures, religions, and so forth are brought together to form a society, there will naturally be questions, concerns, stereotypes, and misconceptions regarding those we consider "different" from ourselves. That doesn't mean we hate those who are different, but we most certainly notice the differences. But what I think escapes some of us (myself included) is the realization that differences originate with the individual person, rather than a certain "group" or "race". Spike Lee's latest film, "Get On the Bus", demonstrates so brilliantly those very differences within a small group of men headed for Washington D.C., to participate in the Million Man March.

Learning experiences are similar to chasing goals or dreams - the most profound moments happen to us while we are unable to fully comprehend the impact they are having. "Get On the Bus" is not about the Million Man March, but rather about what these men will learn from each other and learn about themselves on their way there. This bus will transport a group of men from different walks of life; who think differently, talk differently, relate to others differently, and who will each have something to teach and learn during the course of their voyage.

"Get On the Bus" is a very verbal movie - there is a great deal of dialogue and not much action. When in the hands of the right screenwriter, director, and cast, these kinds of films are my favorite. It took a matter of seconds for the film to reel me in; I was caught up in it immediately. I didn't detect a false note in any of the performances, many of which were delivered by relatively unknown actors. Standout performances include Ossie Davis (a Spike Lee favorite) as the aging Jeremiah; in one scene, he tells another passenger why he so desperately wants to participate in this march, and why he wasn't able to be a part of the last march, in a speech so sad and truthful it's heartbreaking. Also good is Charles S. ("Alien 3", "Rudy") Dutton as the coordinator of the trip; he delivers a speech to his fellow passengers near the end of the film which may be perceived as being preachy, but is such an honest observation that it really doesn't matter - there is a lesson to be learned, and he spells it out perfectly. And Andre (T.V.'s "Homicide: Life on the Street") Braugher, as the arrogant, homophobic actor named Flip, has some of the movie's funniest lines. (When he learns that another passenger is gay and supports conservatism, he declares: "A gay, black republican? Well, now I know I've seen everything!") The rest of the cast is truly brilliant as well, adding to the film's authenticity. The story is held together by a thoughtful script from Reggie Rock Blythewood, and the sure-handed direction of Spike Lee.

What I found to be most interesting was that by the story's end, the characters didn't "set aside" their differences, but rather acknowledged them, learned something from them, and respected those who possessed opposing views. I wonder sometimes, in this age of political correctness, if we are unwilling to acknowledge differences for fear of offending those of another race, religion, etc. Acknowledging something isn't the same thing as condemning it. In one scene, the white bus driver tells one of the passengers: "I like to think of myself as colorblind," in an attempt to say that there is really no difference between black people and white people. Statements like that have good intentions, yet at the same time, there is something condescending about a statement like that. I can't really put my finger on why that is. Maybe instead of trying to convince ourselves that we really don't notice the differences at all, we should try to understand those differences for exactly what they are; and perhaps step back, take a look at our society with all of it's different races, cultures, and beliefs, and realize that the world we live in is indeed a work of art.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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