"Southern trees bear a strange fruit... Black body swinging in the southern breeze"

Nov 15, 2011 (Updated Nov 17, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:cast, location, look

Cons:aspects of the story, sound (especially of commentary track)

The Bottom Line: Uneven technically and in story lines, but powerfully disturbing low-budget movie

Filmed on location in Lake Arthur, Kaplan, and White Castle, Louisiana with a budget of a quarter of a million dollars by writer-director Kyle Schickner (Full Frontal), “Strange Fruit” (2004) is a very disturbing movie with some very strong performances by hunky leading man Kent Faulcon as William Boyals, a black gay refugee from the bayou country who has become a “high-falutin’ northern (NYC) lawyer” who returns to where his mother and highschool teammates and friends rejected him when a late-night call informs him that his adolescent best buddy Kelvin Ayers             Ron Allen has been tortured and strung up (lynched) near the parking lot of a black gay bar “back home.”

Kevlin’s mother (Berlinda Tolbert) had trouble accepting that her son was “a homosexual” (a word broken into syllables with significant pauses between them in the local speech), but accepted both Kelvin and William, being the de facto mother of the latter.

Kelvin’s younger brother, Duane (David Raibon) is out of prison on patrol, very uncomfortable about his brother’s homosexuality, but feeling obliged to help William’s inquiries because, after all Kelvin was “blood.” The notion of “blood” is also involved in Sheriff Carl Jensey (Sam Jones) protecting a newphew whom both he and Duane and Duane thinks killed Kelvin. Despite the wounds on Kelvin’s body, the sheriff closed the case as autoerotic asphyxiation rather than murder or a lynching, and to put it mildly, he does not want the case reopened, even after another corpse is found swining from the same kind of rope.

Then there are deputy sheriffs who make the sheriff look like Sidney Poitier in comparison (though the sheriff is more obdurately racist than Rod Steiger at the beginning of “In the Heat of the Night”).

I hope never to find out how accurate the portrayal of rural Southern attitudes to race and” sexual aberrancy” are. They occupy most of the middle of the movie that runs nearly two hours. There are some action scenes in which the prodigal son is imperiled throughout the movie, but a major escalation in the last half hour, culminating in a denouement that shocked me and would surely be controversial if more people saw the movie (I will avoid plot-spoiling discussion).

The visuals (credit David Oye) are quite good. The sound isn’t and the sound of the commentary track was mostly unintelligible to me (though a tone of levity I thought quite out of place could be detected). The writing of the whodunit is not very good and there are too many sideplots, but there are powerful scenes between William and Duane, William and the sheriff, William and the deputies, and some comedy in scenes between Duane and his mother (and William and a desk clerk eager to jump his bone).

I have my doubts that someone who grew up black and gay in that town would be so unaware of the risks he was running “making waves” or quite as oblivious of his supposed significant other (Cedric played by Christopher Warren) back in NYC, but was able to suspend disbelief while watching the movie, especially in the last part when it was a struggle to keep up with who was doing what (let alone why).

The movie is very powerful for so low-budget a film, but I am not sure what “average” should be the comparison. There are not a lot of films about black gay men, particularly in the US South. And lynching is an exceedingly fraught subject,

There is no nudity and only the most minimal suggestion that fellatio is going on in one scene and that some sexual activity has occurred before William gets a call on his cellphone while in bed with Cedric back near the start of the movie. There is graphic violence, Enter at your own risk!
In addition to the commentary track I found unintelligible, the DVD includes a trailer and some deleted scenes. And the Billy Holliday cover of Lewis Allan's 1940 song finally shows up late in the closing credits.

©2011, Stephen O. Murray

This review is a contribution jenniferkateab's Geography Write-Off. It definitely contrasts places as well as the lifeways in them.

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