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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Shows how investing in enrichment, arts, extracurricular activities can positively impact kids living in underserved communities. Depicts importance of mentorship, cultural awareness, community ties, trusted adults outside the home. Shows that purpose can transform lives. Themes include communication, empathy, perseverance, teamwork.
Positive Role Models
Film is full of role models, starting with Nardie and his late wife, Zambia, who dedicated their lives to arts and cultural program for youth of Louisville, Kentucky. They work tirelessly to teach, shape, guide generation after generation of kids. Albert takes up baton from Nardie and is ready to return to Louisville and lead the Drum Corps. Seniors highlighted in documentary are all committed to their performances, their community, their futures.
Violence & Scariness
Discussion of a woman's terminal breast cancer, of another person's illness. Upsetting conversation about gang shoot-out that ends with young woman shooting another young woman at point-blank range 14 times, killing her.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Nardie talks about how "good girls like bad boys" to describe what happened to his granddaughter.
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Interviewees quote racial slurs they heard in their neighborhood, including the "N" word (several times). They quote teachers' negative comments about a young man: "You're never going to amount to anything."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Discussion of a man whose parents were substance abusers and how he needed more mentorship than some of the other kids in the program.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that River City Drumbeat is a documentary about the River City Drum Corps, a youth percussion program with the goal of enriching the lives of Black children and families in Louisville, Kentucky. Directors Anne Flatté and Marlon Johnson interview the group's co-founder, Ed "Nardie" White, as well as alumni, parents, current students, and former-student-turned-successor Albert Shumake, who talks about how the African percussion and drum line program transformed his life. Expect infrequent strong language, including interviewees talking about the racial slurs yelled at them (the "N" word) and how even teachers told them they wouldn't amount to much. There are also a couple of upsetting conversations about the murder of White's granddaughter and the cancer that killed his wife, and people discuss breaking the cycle of poverty, violence, and substance abuse. Still, despite a few sad/heavy conversations, the movie has themes of communication, empathy, perseverance, and teamwork and is a story of triumph and cultural awareness, showing how the drums helped and inspired generations of West Louisville's Black kids. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This is a touching, powerful documentary about a program that has empowered and educated generations of young Black musicians and students. Co-directors Flatté and Johnson beautifully capture the triumph of Nardie and Zambia's mission not only to teach kids how to play the drums but also to provide a cultural understanding of their heritage through African percussion. The program is more than a class or activity: It's a community that supports kids through and beyond their high school graduation, which is why the portions featuring Nardie's successor, Albert Shumake, are so poignant. Here's proof that being seen, acknowledged, and encouraged as a child can be hugely influential. And seeing how the program continues to shape the lives of Black high schoolers, many of whom take their drumming skills to drum lines at historically Black colleges and universities, is incredibly heartwarming.
The filmmakers don't shy away from sadder aspects of Nardie's journey. Much of River City Drumbeat is a tribute to his late wife, who died of cancer. There's also an upsetting, emotional retelling of how Nardie and Zambia's granddaughter was killed after getting involved in a retaliatory gang shooting. It's heartbreaking to watch Nardie, who's helped so many children, discuss the guilt of not being able to do the same for his own granddaughter. But there are far greater moments of joy as both current and former students thank the group for instilling in them a sense of purpose, an appreciation of African culture, and a structure that helped them succeed both in and out of school.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.