Maurice Hines is known as a triple threat: actor, singer, dancer. In celebration of Black History Month, the film, Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back recently premiered on STARZ and the STARZ app. Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado spoke to the film’s director, John Carluccio, about Maurice Hines’s extraordinary seven-decade career, his legacy and relevance today. The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Epicenter: Tell us about the film.
Carluccio: This is a film about Maurice Hines, who is an outspoken showman, a triple threat, you’d say. He’s a singer, dancer, actor, but the film follows his career and also him. It follows his career through archives and current day and does it with humor and grace, and you can see the highs and lows of a seven decade career and a complex relationship with his superstar brother: Gregory Hines, [who died in 2003, was] a famous actor and former tap dancer as well. It’s a story about brotherly love and the complexity of being a star alongside a brighter star. It’s got dance, music and it’s entertaining.
Epicenter: Where did the inspiration for the film come from?
Carluccio: A collaborative brother partnership in a creative field that didn’t pan out after a period of time and having that kind of tension that happens with brothers, was very familiar to me. I was always amazed at how people are connected, especially when they work creatively and as a family, so I tried to show that element of life. On top of it, Maurice is such a character, he is a very charismatic and vocal person, but he’s also very sweet and kind and so, so talented. But, you can have someone who has a lot of energy, but what’s the story? So I found that the brotherly love or the dynamics of working together and having some separation or estrangement was a valuable tale to tell.
Epicenter: What was it like working with Maurice Hines?
Carluccio: It was a challenge because Maurice is well rehearsed as a performer. When you interview people who are performers, by their very nature, they want to please the interviewer and sometimes they just tell you things that they’ve already sort of prepared. The challenge for me was to try to get him off tempo and challenge some of the narratives that he had without necessarily dismissing it. It was fun working with him, and it was a challenge because he does have some boundaries, but he also was very impressed when he would open up about things that he hadn’t thought about. It was a balancing act and my goal was just to paint a portrait that resembles him, but also shows more of what he’s emotionally going through, as well as not just sort of showing what’s on the surface.
Epicenter: What can Hines’ life teach New Yorkers?
Carluccio: Maurice is a survivor, he grew up in Harlem, he lived in Brooklyn for a long period of time too. I think he knows that New York is not an easy place to live, but what’s really nice is you can be as different as he is. He’s openly gay and most people knew that, but this was just one of those things where he can navigate New York without really having a lot of conflict. He found home here with the Broadway community, the dance community, he grew up going to the Apollo Theater. There are elements of that real world directness that New York has that Hollywood doesn’t that I think Maurice loves. I think Maurice likes that ability to be with folks that were fabulous in their own worlds because that’s what he is. He’s fabulous in his own world, and I think he found that New Yorkers are that.
Epicenter: What would Maurice say about the way dance has evolved for Black performers?
Carluccio: Maurice would not be complacent. It has evolved and there are lots of success stories, but Maurice would say there’s still not enough. Not enough variety and not enough understanding of the past, of the greats like Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, Frank Hatchett—who’s featured in the film—the great Michael Peters, Debbie Allen. There’s all these really great people that Maurice saw were trailblazers. There’s a world of African-American dance that has impacted current day dance and those folks are not always seen. So I think Maurice would say, you have to look at the past. It’s okay to try new things, it’s great to have new music, but the foundation of these arts, it’s very valuable to recognize all these great leaders.
Epicenter: What lessons can young dancers take away from Hines’ lived experiences?
Carluccio: A big thing that he says is, ‘find what makes you you.’ I think that’s the lesson he imparts to people: everybody has something extra, what makes you special? Harness that, in current terms, brand it. But really, reinforce your uniqueness, whatever it is, and lean into your uniqueness.
Epicenter: What advice would you give someone who wants to be just like Hines when they grow up?
Carluccio: Find your signature, find your voice. There’s a great saying by James Mtume. He talks about the three stages of art where the first stage is “imitation,” where you’re kind of like, ‘I want to be like someone else’ and you start like copying them, and that’s okay. Then the second stage is, “emulation,” where you try to sort of beat that person, you modify that and emulate the same thing, but it’s not a direct copy. Then the third part is “innovation” and I think that’s where you find your voice. For a young person it is probably a long journey of those three steps. But I think that’s a very universal lesson that I think Maurice understood and that a lot of other people know.
Epicenter: This film deals with the complex relationship between the Hines brothers. What can people learn about family?
Carluccio: I think he would say: always love your family, but he would say that at times it’s okay not to like something your family members do to you. And I think that kind of division is possible, you can love your brother and not always like who your brother is, is probably the life family lesson that he learned. I think over time, because Gregory passed away, Maurice has compartmentalized any pain or complication that he experienced with Gregory. He’s unflinchingly in love with his brother still to this day. Regardless of what anyone could say, it’s his little brother, and he’s always going to love him.
Epicenter: Why is it important to watch this film now, during Black History Month and during a pandemic?
Carluccio: Maurice is a survivor. He exudes Black excellence. [The film showcases] Black joy. It’s a portrait and not a biography, it’s something you can really get mercifully involved in and feel an emotional response to, as opposed to just collecting a lot of factual information. [Also] the idea that you can kind of find yourself in spaces that are occupied by African Americans and just enjoy being in those spaces in the film, is a very valuable thing while we’re all indoors. There’s a point where there’s a party they’re celebrating and it’s like that kind of feeling of being loved is something that I think we all can enjoy and all desperately need. This was recorded in April 2019. This was filmed before the pandemic. So everyone is very close and hugging and all that. And it’s a great moment to remind us that that’s where we’re going to return to. And so I think during a pandemic and also in seeing Black joy is really a very valuable thing that I wanted to make sure was revealed in the film as much as possible because there is a lot of trauma and that’s not the only story, that is part of life, and that is something that is obviously explained in some capacity. But the brightness of life is revealed as much as possible in this film.
Epicenter: What do you want people to take away from this film?
Carluccio: I would like people to take a second look at people, at our seniors or our elders and know that there are some really creative and smart and entertaining talent out there and they all have a story and they’re fabulous. They’re fabulous people. I hope that people can get that and then maybe learn more about themselves and in relationships with their friends and family.
The film Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back can be streamed via the STARZ channel on television and theSTARZ app. You can also watch it on Vimeo on Demand with extra clips of Hines, including a pilot episode he made on gentrification in Harlem. Watch the trailer.