My Brother’s Wedding: Charles Burnett’s View of South Central, Los Angeles

In My Brother’s Wedding, which Charles Burnett co-produced, wrote, directed, photographed and edited, the goal was to change the image of South Central–long before the 1992 riots.

For Burnett, Watts was not an urban jungle, but a place where people lead ordinary lives, based on work, family, friendship. Portraying Watts as both anywhere USA and a specific locale, it’s a battleground with guns in the streets, good china on the table, and blues wafting through the trees.

Embittered youth Pierce Monday (Everett Silas) is entrapped between two worlds: the “safe” comfort and middle-class existence of his lawyer brother, Wendell, about to marry an attorney, and the hell-bent world of his buddy, ex-con Soldier Richards. Like the uncle in Burnett’s later film, To Sleep with Anger, Soldier is a troublemaker, a symbol of rebellion against the things that both repel and attract Pierce. For Burnett, neither man is a satisfying role model. Wendell is smug, while Soldier is a near psychopath.

The story includes attempted murders, chases, fights and violent deaths. Burnett reduces horror to a sudden eruption of violence in the lives of ordinary people, concerned with making a living and getting through the day.

As in To Sleep With Anger, Burnett encloses his tale in biblical invocations and ironic suggestions of redemption and damnation.

Burnett’s script is strong, but the film’s pacing is deliberate and the acting amateurish (some of it by design).

As the critic Michael Wilmington observed that, what makes the film special is the way Burnett lingers on details, breaking off climaxes and entering the action halfway through, which keeps the audience in a state of suspense.