Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown

Movie review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown Movie Poster Image
Musical docu has great performances, strong vocab.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 120 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

James Brown contributed to the United States' musical and political history, and this documentary portrays his complex and sometimes troubled life in a largely objective and respectful way.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Brown was a great artist and performer, but he had many flaws, some of which are spelled out here. He had a history of arrests for offenses ranging from stealing to physically abusing women. 

Violence

Brief images of Ku Klux Klan activities, civil rights marches, and other historic moments. A man is shown after being shot; blood is visible. Stories include band members threatening each other with guns. Brown's history of domestic violence is briefly addressed. Fans are shown being thrown off the stage by guards, but no one gets hurt. 

Sex

Brown's life story includes growing up in a brothel. 

Language

"Hell," "pissed," "s--t," and the "N" word.

Consumerism

Archived footage sometimes shows ads for, among other items, Dr Pepper.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mick Jagger drinks during his interviews. A few references to smoking marijuana.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown is a documentary that examines the singer's music career, as well as his involvement with the civil rights movement and American race relations in general. There are a few strong words ("piss," "hell," "s--t," the "N" word), as well as a brief reference to prostitution and brief images of KKK activities. Violent events, including people being threatened with guns and domestic violence, are discussed. Drinking is visible, and marijuana use is talked about.

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What's the story?

MR. DYNAMITE: THE RISE OF JAMES BROWN is an HBO documentary about the Godfather of Soul. Filmmaker Alex Gibney takes an in-depth look at the rise of the singer from his humble beginnings in the segregated South to becoming a musical star and activist. With the help of photographs, video footage, music recordings, and excerpts of many of his high-energy musical performances, viewers can both see and hear how Brown went from being an impoverished child to a superstar. Interviews with historians, musicians who toured with him, and people such as Mick Jagger, Reverend Al Sharpton, and others who were influenced by his music and style add to the portrait. 

Is it any good?

James Brown fans will get a kick out of watching him sing, dance, and showboat as only he knew how to do. From seeing him perform on the "chitlin' circuit" (a network of venues where African-American entertainers could perform in the segregated South) in the early 1960s to appealing to a national audience on the Ed Sullivan Show, the documentary highlights the key moments in James Brown's musical career that define his success. In between musical performances, Mr. Dynamite examines how the racial segregation he experienced in his youth influenced his role in the American civil rights movement. The controversial way the singer and his music served as an assertion of Black pride also is explored. 

Devoted music enthusiasts will appreciate the conversations about Brown's unique sound and style and the way he worked with artists to produce that sound, which combines soul, jazz, swing, funk, and other styles and which influenced artists such as Michael Jackson, Prince, Public Enemy, Bruno Mars, and countless others. It's great fun, though if you don't care for the singer or his music, chances are you'll lose interest before the film's over.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the people and music who influence today's musicians. Who, besides James Brown, has influenced the music industry in the last 75 years? What is the impact they have had on the music we listen to? 

  • Is James Brown a role model? What are his admirable qualities? What traits make his less likable?

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