Long before Billy Porter and Tituss Burgess found fame on Broadway and on TV, multitalented entertainer Maurice Hines Jr. helped pave the way for fabulous, openly gay black men in showbiz. The new documentary Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back pays tribute to him while offering some surprising revelations about his life beyond his career as an accomplished dancer, choreographer, theater director, and star of such Broadway productions as Eubie!, Sophisticated Ladies, Uptown… It’s Hot!, and Hot Feet. Directed by John Carluccio, the film is really a story about family, risk-taking, and the highs and lows that come with any journey toward self-acceptance and personal liberation.
Bring Them Back paints a portrait of a sassy, charming, and brutally honest trailblazer who tapped his way into the spotlight in the 1950s and ’60s. Hines, who’s been performing since he was 5, is quick to remind folks just how cute and special he is, but he’s also been a longtime proponent of the mantra “Never let anyone define who you are.” At times, he is prickly, demanding, and complicated. Scenes of his rocky relationship with his successful younger brother Gregory (who died of cancer in 2003) pack some of the doc’s biggest emotional punches, and while he has a loyal, loving circle of family and friends—some of his illustrious pals interviewed include Debbie Allen and Chita Rivera—he has also exhibited reclusive tendencies as he’s dealt with aging (he turns 76 next month).
“He’s flashy, but he’s also shy about receiving praise,” says Carluccio’s wife, Tracy E. Hopkins, who wrote the film and served as one of its producers. (Hines will see the documentary in its entirety for the first time at its world premiere this week at DOC NYC.) Carluccio adds that he wanted to avoid the big gay movie cliché in which the subject’s sexuality isn’t revealed until near the end. “I wanted to make sure you knew right off the bat that Maurice is gay, and that you moved beyond it.”
Here, Carluccio and Hopkins discuss four other things viewers will learn about Hines while watching the film.
He was never in the closet, and his showbiz family always accepted his sexuality.
For most of Hines’ life, LGBTQ rights were nonexistent, and being an openly gay black man meant that he was at an extremely high risk of being fired or assaulted. In the documentary, he says his mother knew he was gay before he told her, and that he would casually discuss his love life with his father. His straight brother Gregory, also a performer, used to go to gay clubs with Maurice and had no hangups about dancing with gay men. Basically, Hines’ family was “woke” decades before being woke was a thing.
“We were a little surprised his family was so accepting,” Hopkins says. “He’s like, ‘I’m Maurice. I just happen to be gay—and I’m loving it.’ People have always appreciated that about him—that he’s open and secure and confident in who he is.”
He used to date football players when he was younger—and still likes well-built men.
In the documentary, Hines details his taste in men: “I like football players the best… especially linemen. If they’ve got big calves, we’re going to talk.” He adds that he’s dated a lot of pro football players in the past (he won’t name names), explaining, “They just fell in love with me.” The movie also shows him flirting with a young, stocky black cameraman who’s part of the crew. “I’m 75, baby,” he says, laughing as he sizes him up. “I say exactly what I need.”
However, Carluccio asserts that Hines prefers to be discreet about his ex-lovers. “He’s still a little protective of his private life.”
Hines will never reveal the reason he and his brother were estranged for several years.
Family members and close friends interviewed in the movie all confirm what Hines says in the film: He refuses to tell anyone why he and Gregory—who had on-again, off-again feuds—stopped speaking to each other for about 10 years, even when they lived just a few blocks from each other.
The last time the two brothers danced together in public was in director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 film The Cotton Club, which was Maurice’s film debut.
In the movie, they play estranged, tap-dancing brothers who reconcile—and luckily, in the late 1990s, Maurice and Gregory mended their real-life relationship. Says Carluccio, “I hope people who watch the film who are going through some kind of difficult family dynamic can see themselves and maybe see both sides.”
He has an adopted daughter named Cheryl Davis.
In another example of how he was ahead of his time, Hines adopted when gay adoption wasn’t accepted in most states. He and his domestic partner Silas Davis, who was in a relationship with Hines from 1979 to 1996, raised Davis’ daughter Cheryl together, and Hines eventually adopted her as a co-parent. Cheryl appears in the movie and still has a loving relationship with Hines, even though her fathers are no longer together.
Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back will have its world premiere November 10 at DOC NYC.
Main image: Gregory Hines (L) and Maurice Hines performing in the 1960s.