“Gun Hill Road” Ain’t the Neighborhood Of Ozzie and Harriet
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
When I worked in New York, there were some parts of the boroughs you entered cautiously. My friend Tom Wolfe wrote about this in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Emilio Estavez explored this wrong neighborhood concept in the movie “Judgment Night.”
Gun Hill Road is a major thoroughfare in the Bronx that stretches 3.5 miles through Woodlawn and Morris Park. It’s a warren of multi-unit homes and corner bodegas. Over 20% of the population lives below the poverty line. Last year anti-gay hate crimes took place in Morris Heights.
This is the neighborhood to which Enrique (Esai Manuel Morales) returns after being released from prison in the eponymous movie “Gun Hill Road.” Things have changed. His family is not like the one he left. Wife Angela (Judy Reyes) has been unfaithful. Son Michael (Harmony Santana) has become a transsexual. How do you re-assimilate into a society that’s so different than the one you knew before going behind bars?
And just maybe Enrique himself has changed.
You can visit “Gun Hill Road” and see for yourself at the Tropic Cinema.
This is writer-director Rashaad Ernesto Green’s feature debut. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
The 33-year-old Green was born in the Bronx, so he knows the turf. Ra (as his friends call him) earned a Master's degree from NYU Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Acting Program. He directed five short films before tackling “Gun Hill Road.” Several of them were set in the Bronx.
“The Bronx itself is a character,” says Green.
There have been other movies about the Bronx, such as Robert De Niro’s “A Bronx Tale,” “Fort Apache, The Bronx,” or “The Wanderers.” But this is one made by a native, starring many local actors. Judy Reyes (TV’s “Scrubs”) was born in the Bronx.
Harmony Santana was beginning actual gender reassignment when he/she won the role of the son. “I looked at attractive gay males who might have had experience with drag to see if they might be able to portray the character,” Green says. “But they didn’t have the essence I was looking for. There’s a difference between someone who’s pretending to be female and someone who actually believes they are.”
He discovered Ms. Santana at a gay pride parade. “She said she was at the beginning of her transition, which was like, ‘Bingo,’ ” smiles the director, proud of his discovery.
Green, whose family comes from the area around Gun Hill Road and Burke Avenue, says the story is based on a family member who dealt with similar issues.
Esai Morales (“La Bamba”) holds this Bronx tale together, giving us a family drama that is far from Ozzie and Harriet. He displays the father’s anger about his son’s lifestyle you’d expect to encounter in this macho neighborhood. Dragging his son to a ballgame or introducing him to a prostitute doesn’t make a man of him.
My ol’ pal director Paul Morrissey (“Trash,” “Flesh”) helped introduce America to Andy Warhol’s transgender “superstars” like Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn.
Ra Green has added Harmony Santana.
[from Solares Hill]