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Acclaimed Pittsburgh-based author talks with fellow Black writers in new documentary

Brian Broome’s award-winning debut memoir, “Punch Me Up To The Gods,” covers a lot of ground, from the challenges he faced growing up Black and gay in small-town Ohio to his struggles with addiction and recovery as an adult in Pittsburgh.

Something beyond the scope of that critically acclaimed 2021 book was the relationships Broome has built with a network of fellow Black artists and writers in Pittsburgh. Audiences can learn more in “Introducing Brian Broome,” a feature-length documentary by locally based filmmaker Chris Ivey that makes its Pittsburgh premiere Sat., May 21, at the Harris Theater.

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“It’s just like catching that moment, you know, right before he is getting ready to become big,” said Ivey.

In October, "Punch Me Up To The Gods" won the prestigious Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction. Starting just before the book dropped the previous May, Ivey began to capture Broome's candid conversations with the likes of “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker” memoirist and Washington Post columnist Damon Young; Deesha Philyaw, author of the award-winning story collection “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies”; artist and performer Vanessa German; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman; poet and “World of Wakanda” comics writer Yona Harvey; and CityLab journalist Brentin Mock.

“I love they’re all so close, you know,” said Ivey, himself a friend of Broome’s, who frequently works overseas. “For me, it’s like you have all the outsiders that never really got real Pittsburgh support in their work, and it’s just like they’re all f---ing blowing up at the same time.”

The film is often poignant, insightful, or uproariously funny, as the friends swap stories and observations. In one scene, Broome joins Young on an outdoor basketball court to discuss sports and masculinity. Talking with Mock, he relates some of the challenges of being a gay Black man. “I always felt, like, ‘I have to make these people comfortable.’ I have to make white people comfortable by being less masculine. Right? I have to prove that I’m a kitty cat to them, that I’m not a threat,” says Broome in the film. “But I have to make Black people comfortable by being more masculine. I cannot be sissified around Black people.”

But it’s complicated, Broome explains. While he no longer considers Black people more homophobic as a group than whites, he tells Mock, “when black people are homophobic, it feels different to me. It’s more hurtful to me because I care about what Black people think about me.”

Two scenes with German are especially powerful. In one, she and Broome discuss colorism — the penchant, even among some Black people, to value lighter-toned skin. The conversation builds off an episode in Broome’s childhood when a young Black girl told him he was too dark. In another scene, Broome and German tell the wrenching story of the time police cruelly harassed them during an outdoor photoshoot near German’s home in Homewood.

Other conversations feature Broome swapping anecdotes with Michael Massie, an old friend from his hard-partying days. There are also a couple of dramatic recreations, including one about an edgy sexual encounter and another evoking a romantic fling Broome had in Paris.

Ivey is known for documentary projects, including his epic “East of Liberty” series, exploring gentrification in East Liberty. “Introducing Brian Broome” has played at the Montreal Independent Film Festival, WorldFest Houston International Film Festival and the LGBTQ Unbordered International Film Festival, with upcoming screenings at the San Francisco Black Film Festival and the Septimius Awards in Amsterdam.

Ivey said he wanted to show a face of the city not often represented in the media. “In Pittsburgh, it’s really hard for black people to get along with each other, in terms of like creative and growing,” he said. “It’s always this competitive b---s--. Pretty much in our group, we just all just do our own thing, and just keep doing our thing.”

“Introducing Brian Broome” screens at 8 p.m. Sat., May 21.More information is here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: