Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President Movie Poster Image
Rockers reveal Jimmy Carter was cool in campaign docu.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 95 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Reframes Carter's presidency to show how he was elected as a man of the people and the many ways in which he was an effective, successful leader. Themes include communication, compassion, empathy, humility, integrity, self-control.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Portrait of a humble, empathetic, peace-striving humanitarian president who worked to combat racism and led the country with integrity, compassion, self-control. He's gentle, diplomatic, and kind, works to serve others during and well beyond his time in office.

Violence

News footage of a racist White politician shoving Black men. Talk of how Americans were taken hostage in Iran, accompanied by news images of them wearing blindfolds. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Brands mentioned incidentally within context, such as Levi's, J&B whiskey, and Wild Turkey.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Journalist Hunter S. Thompson is shown in a news clip and photos smoking cigarettes in the early 1970s. Conversations about rockers and others who smoked marijuana; reference to a famous musician who was arrested for cocaine possession. Discussions of rockers drinking whiskey with President Carter (he clarifies that, when he drinks, he limits himself to one drink in a day).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President is a documentary that shows the 39th president of the United States through the eyes of the popular musicians he befriended. Carter's presidency is often remembered for negative events that happened toward the end -- i.e., the Iran hostage crisis and high gas prices. This film's goal is to make viewers aware of his significant achievements, including negotiating a peace accord between Egypt and Israel, the only meaningful peace achieved in the Middle East. Beyond that, the film presents Carter as a leader who's a really good human, using his empathy, integrity, and self-control to combat racism in the South, to create unlikely allies, and to get through his tenure without a single bullet shot or bomb thrown. Most of the movie's focus is on his unusual presidential campaign, with Southern Rock concerts as fundraisers and the endorsements of popular music acts. While iffy content is minimal, there's some discussion of violent acts, as well as historical footage of smoking and stories of drinking and drug use by rockers (as well as the admission that Willie Nelson and Carter's son smoked pot together). 

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What's the story?

JIMMY CARTER: ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT reveals the campaign strategies and character traits that led to a liberal peanut farmer being elected president of the United States in 1976. Through interviews and rare archival footage, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Gregg Allman, Nile Rogers, Jimmy Buffett, Bono, Madeline Albright, Paul SimonGarth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, and others explain how the unlikely candidate brought a broken nation together, especially young people, through the popular music of the day.

Is it any good?

For many folks under 50, this documentary will be surprising, if not revelatory. Why? It reveals the fact that, at the time of his presidential election, Jimmy Carter was considered hip. So much so, in fact, that some of his best friends were the music icons of the 1970s. A parade of chart-topping names speak to Carter's personality, character, and leadership style, explaining his unique campaign tactic of winning over voters one music note at a time. As might be expected for the era, with rockers came drugs -- and Carter, who wore his religious beliefs on his sleeve, didn't mind that. In fact, he used it to his advantage. That might seem shocking to some, and yet, when explained, it makes perfect sense -- especially when you put yourself in the moment. 

Director Mary Wharton's interview subjects (including a charming, easygoing Carter himself) explain how Carter's unique circumstances -- he was a small-town liberal with strong Christian values who grew up in a Black community in the South -- made him a unicorn candidate in the '70s. He was the right man to bring disenchanted Republicans and riled up Democrats together at a time when government corruption had been exposed. Wharton goes on to show the eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner as a man of integrity who triumphed through most of his time in office -- just not in the challenging final stretch -- and who continued his humanitarian work in a substantial way after leaving office. That said, Carter's political missteps went beyond Iran and OPEC, and while it's mentioned that fellow Democrat Ted Kennedy ran against him (extremely unusual for an election involving a sitting president), the reasons why are glazed over. Sometimes we can look back at history with rose-colored glasses, and, in Carter's case, we may want to. But it doesn't serve us to remember only what worked, and not what didn't. When reviewing American history, this effort shows us that Carter had some razzle-dazzle in his day, but it falls short of comprehending why and how Carter dealt with the challenges he faced during his years as the leader of the free world.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how President Carter used integrity, empathy, and self-control to lead. Why are these important character strengths?

  • How do Carter's compassion and belief in standing up for human rights help him as a candidate -- and then hurt him, as Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President shows, in the third year of his presidency? 

  • How did Carter use his famous friends to help him get elected? Was it different than when celebrities voice their support for a candidate today? Why, or why not?

  • What events occurred prior to the 1976 election that led to U.S. voters seeking to elect a political outsider president? From documentaries like The War Room to scripted features like Primary Colors and series like The Circus, why do you think there's such an interest in seeing how presidents campaigned? How is watching a documentary different from watching the news?

  • How does the film portray drinking and drug use? Is it condoned?

Movie details

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