The Bus is Coming
1972 Directed by Wendell James Franklin
The Bus Is Coming is set in the ghetto of an American city on the eve of an almost-imminent race war. Joe Mitchell, a prominent and respected leader in the cause of civil rights, has been shot down in his home by local police. All the facts aren't in yet, but the Black Community is suspicious of the circumstances and fearful of the consequences of Joe's death. Some prefer to leave well enough alone, while other, more militant, members insist that Joe's death is the first step in the systematic killing of progressive Black Leaders.
Billy Mitchell arrives home from Vietnam half an hour late for his brother's funeral. With Billy is John, a white Army buddy who had planned to stop over in Center City only long enough to meet Billy's brother, relax, and move on to his own home in the Midwest. As Michael, previously Joe's right-hand man, sits with a group of militants at Joe's funeral, he can no longer stomach the hypocrisy of the bland eulogies for Joe. Michael
stands, interrupting the preacher, and points his finger at Police Chief Jackson as the perpetrator of the plot to kill Joe and also berates the Uncle Toms who gave him their silent support. As Michael cries, "Off the Pig!"
Billy walks down the aisle of the church alone, past Michael, and up to the casket of his brother. The old Baptist church is deathly still. As Billy walks back up the aisle, he stops beside Michael and says quietly, "What the hell do you know about my brother?" and walks out of the church.
The rest of the film deals with Billy's attempt to make sense of his brother's death. Billy's search for the truth must work its way through many aspects of life in the ghetto. Personally, Billy must decide where he fits into a growing militant movement to make a racial martyr of his brother. Billy thought he was through with killing; now he must face the possibility of war in his own home town. Where does John, Billy's white Vietnam buddy, fit in? Billy soon realizes that in the present situation, John is only a barrier to his efforts to relate to his own brothers and is personally endangered by angered militants. Both Billy and John realize that John must leave if Billy is to make any progress. John does leave with an admonition from Billy to work for racial understanding among his own people when John gets back home.
Tanya, Billy's girl friend prior to his hitch in Vietnam, is the sister of Michael. She is sympathetic to Michael's goals, if not his methods.
Billy, Tanya and the militants have finally come to terms with each other and are anxious to use the rally as a positive step toward community unity and action. Michael speaks first. He says that the first stages of peace talks have already begun. With the cooperation of the Black Fist, Michael's militant group, arrangements have been made for the security of the municipal bus route. Billy follows Michael on the podium. He begins his speech; but before he can reveal the truth of his brother's murder, he is shot down by Miss Nickerson. The police and the militants react quickly. The scene turns chaotic.
The hard driving plot of The Bus Is Coming is further enhanced by the intensity and realism Of the film's many action scenes. For example, a police car is fire-bombed and destroyed; Cone's car, the final clue that links him directly to Joe Mitchell's murder, is discovered by Billy and Tanya in a body shop and a brutal fight between Billy and Cone ensues; a chase and shootout involving the militants and the police (similar to the Huey Newton Oakland shootout), and a dramatic chase and escape through the ghetto featuring Michael and Dobie, his deputy defense minister.
Can Billy resume his relationship with Tanya and remain objective in his search for Joe's murderer?
Police Chief Jackson, recently appointed to replace a crooked racist chief, initially feels that his responsibility is to defend the integrity of his police force and to promote law and order at all costs. However, Naylor, a police sergeant, and his partner, Cone, are anxious to promote unrest in the hope that a race war will rid the community once and for all of threatening Black elements and at the same time hasten the recall of the old police chief to whom their loyalties actually belong.
Related but tangential incidents such as the stoppage of municipal bus services to the ghetto due to too many muggings, add extra sparks to the already volatile tinder box. The focus of all these forces is centered on a rally proposed to unite the Black community in protest against growing racial persecution.
Billy, initially against such a rally, agrees to speak for his brother and also to expose Cone, whom he has discovered to be Joe's killer. Naylor, painfully aware that Jackson has arrested Cone and that he (Naylor) will be next on Jackson's purge list, sees as his only hope the provocation of a race riot at the rally. The militants, anxious to have a peaceful rally, but suspicious of the possibility of peace, have stashed their weapons nearby . . . .