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Director John Sayles' 1984 "Brother from Another Planet" is the Legend of the Drinking Gourd and the history of the underground railroads told with a contemporary urban America voice.
An alien space pilot, the Brother (Joe Morton) crashes his space ship into the Hudson River. His alien-ness gives him special powers -- he heals physical wounds, for example. He also has a heightened sense of hearing and hears the voices of immigrants from the past who came to Ellis Island for freedom, but were transferred to warehouses and camps.
The Brother rents a room from Sue Carter (Caroline Aaron), whose son Little Earl (Herbert Newsome) taps into the alien's wavelengths immediately, as only children can.
Eventually, the evil force appears -- the original "men in black," played by John Sayles himself and David Strathairn. The men in black are also from elsewhere ("up" as it were) and carry mug shots and an ESL textbook. Their mission: to find and possibly destroy illegal aliens.
Noreen (Maggie Renzi, also the Producer) plays a civil servant. She doesn't care too much for the men and tries to divert them with paperwork, which works for a while.
In a local bar, the Brother finds companionship. Odell (Steve James), Walter (Bill Cobbs), Smokey (Leonard Jackson) and Fly (Daryl Edwards) make him feel "at home" and lend support when the boys come lurking.
When the Brother is robbed by heroin addicts and then finds an overdosed addict lying on the street, the Brother seeks revenge. He shoots up first, trying to understand, and has a bad trip, but meets Rasta, Virgil (Sidney Sheriff, Jr.). Together, they take the hazy ship back home. The realities of life in Harlem anger the Brother and "the trip" ignites his passion for justice.
In search of justice, the Brother finds the neighborhood supplier in his company tower somewhere near Wall Street. The drug dealer is forced to sniff himself into a coke overdose. Justice served.
Meanwhile, the men are getting closer. But, by this time, though, the Brother has tapped into the ancestral powers and "reads the writing on the wall" - to which he replies with his own blood, calling the "aliens" out of hiding and into action.
This is a beautiful film filled with metaphors magnifying the idiocy in racism and ethnocentrism. John Sayles is a brilliant filmmaker, and has done it once again with this masterpiece.