Documentary celebrates work of African-American artists
By Scott Tady, The Beaver County Times, Feb. 13, 2002

PITTSBURGH -- All kidding about captive audiences aside, inmates at the Allegheny County Jail genuinely enjoyed their advanced screening Tuesday of a new TV documentary, "BrotherMen."

"It touched inside of me," 33-year-old inmate Mike Barron of Pittsburgh said of "BrotherMen," which chronicles the historic, political and cultural realities of the African-American experience.

"BrotherMen" director Demetria Royals chose to premiere her one-hour documentary at the Pittsburgh jail because she knows firsthand how the arts can convince troubled people to turn around their lives. Royals, a Harlem native, served an 11-month stint in a juvenile detention center.

"People ask me what I'd be doing if I wasn't a filmmaker, and I say 20-to-life," Royals told 20 mostly youthful inmates hand-picked by jail officials to attend the "BrotherMen" screening.

"BrotherMen" debuts publicly Feb. 20 on WQED-TV (Channel 13), the Pittsburgh Public Broadcasting Station, which sponsored the documentary. Other PBS stations can begin airing "BrotherMen" in June.

Produced in association with the National Black Programming Consortium, which has a satellite office at WQED, "BrotherMen" mixes music, dance, performance, photography, archival footage and interviews to celebrate the achievements of five African-American artists.

The five profiled subjects are famed Philadelphia songwriters Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, photographer Chester Higgins Jr., choreographer and dancer David Rousseve, and the late Pops Staples, a singer and civil rights activist.

Most of Tuesday's inmate audience had never heard of Rousseve and Staples, or were old enough to recall the early 1970s "Philly soul" sound created by Gamble and Huff.

Royals, the documentary director, had every reason to worry that the inmates would show indifference to her one-hour work. Seated beforehand in a makeshift theater in one of the jail's recreation rooms, Royals nervously tapped her feet on the ground, seated in a corner, out of view of the inmates.

When the documentary ended, she marched to a podium and was relieved to hear the enthusiastic response from the 11 black and nine white inmates who, without prompting, began to applaud, then volunteered their comments and questions.

Barron, the 33-year-old inmate from Pittsburgh, said he appreciated how "BrotherMen" painted a positive portrait of the African-American experience. He told Royals he has seen other historical accounts of African Americans that dwelled too much on the negative. "A lot of them make us want to get radical and stuff," he said, adding that "BrotherMen" evoked a peaceful vibe.

"I thought it was time for someone to publicly write a love letter to black men," Royals said.

Orlando Pagone, 25, an inmate from Pittsburgh's North Side, said what he drew from "BrotherMen" is that men of all races need to come together and show responsibility in raising their children.

"We need unity," Pagone said. "As men, we need to stand up and take our place in society."

Jerry DeSabato, 27, of Pittsburgh's Bloomfield section, also liked the documentary's positive message, adding, "It's not about black and white anymore. It's about taking care of our children."

Wearing their red jail uniforms, inmates thanked Royals for taking the unusual step of premiering a TV show behind bars.

"Instead of rolling out the red carpet, we rolled out the red uniforms," DeSabato said.

Beaver County Times/Allegheny Times 2002


Praise from Earl G. Graves, Sr.
Publisher & CEO, Black Enterprise Magazine
Author, "How to Succeed in Business Without Being White"

The one-hour performance-based documentary BrotherMen sends a long overdue message about the essence of unity and brotherhood experienced by black men in America.

Through art, music and dramatic interpretation, the laudable accomplishments of the five featured personalities -- songwriters Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, photographer Chester Higgins Jr., choreographer/dancer David Roussève, and gospel/blues patriarch the late Roebuck "Pops" Staples -- provides a collage of expertise, guiding you through the spirited struggle and abounding achievements of black men.

The chieftains of BrotherMen open their hearts with sensitivity and devotion through visual expression, providing you with a glimpse of underlying unity expressed in pictorial gallantry -- the spirit of brotherhood amongst black men.

This "must see" documentary should be watched and embraced by both our men and women, young and old, as we continue our journey to grow and nurture our souls in the understanding of true brotherhood.

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