Beat the Drum

2007-01-16 17:36

With his father's last gift, a tribal drum, in hand, a young boy (Junior Singo) orphaned by a "mysterious plague" travels to Johannesburg to find his uncle who he hopes will help him and what's left of his rural village, which is being wiped out by the same “plague". But instead his journey leads him to new friends, the truth about the plague and unexpected hope. He decides to return to his village teach his people about what is killing their loved ones.


With a few disastrous South African movies out there, you’d be forgiven for holding your breath when a new one comes out. With Beat the Drum the nation can breathe a sigh of relief, not least because the movie is actually four years old. Made in 2002, it had been touring the world since then, accumulating dozens of awards.

It’s easy to see why it did so well overseas. It is well shot and has some superb acting, particularly by Junior Singo as 10-year-old Musa, who does a brilliant job of expressing the deep emotion necessary in a story about HIV/Aids, death and hope. Junior can cry, show fear and laugh on cue and still make it appear genuine. He could easily steal an Oscar nomination from under Haley Joel Osment's nose. A surprise since Beat the Drum is his first movie role.

Junior has a lot of support from some veteran South African actors who shine in the film. Owen Sejake is convincing as a man struggling with his own demons and facing these issues when Musa befriends him. Mature actor Mary Twala is great as Musa's grandmother. And Clive Scott gives a solid performance as a businessman with prejudices that are softened when he is faced with a crisis in his life.

Although the message about HIV/Aids is a strong one in the film, there is also the message of truth and hope. If one phrase were to be used to describe Beat the Drum it would be: "The truth will set you free"

In most African cultures the elders do not talk to the young people about serious subjects and the movie challenges this without steamrollering the culture as a whole. It show that with communication, there is hope for a better life - a clear message that everybody will get.

The beautiful scenic shots on location - rural KwaZulu-Natal and the dark dingy areas of Johannesburg – also enhance the film. Director David Hickson does a great job in carrying the symbol of the drum throughout the film, as he tries to drive home the importance of communicating.

Even an outstanding movie with several awards under it's belt, has some shortfalls. In Beat the Drum , the villagers can't decide if they are Zulu or English as they swing back and forth between the two languages without any clear explanation. A big mistake if you want to create consistency.

But there are too many storylines running through the movie: Nobe's battle to resolve his issues, Musa’s quest to find hope for his family, and Pieter facing his demons and realising he is not immune to the "plague".

It's understandable that the director should want to illustrate that HIV/Aids knows no race, class or age and that everyone should talk about it openly if we ever want to end the pandemic, but the competing strands divert attention from the central character too much, often without clear transition.

Unfortunately for Beat the Drum, these shortfalls reduce its power. But the makers should be comforted in knowing that South Africans can walk out of the cinema not only entertained, but also changed.

- Nomfundo H Mbaba+Tshabalala
Beat the Drum is more than just a movie about AIDS, it's an emotional journey about breaking the silence that is wiping out a village.

lalasini 2006/11/23 9:04 AM
'Beat the Drum' I saw 'Beat the Drum' last night at the Cape Town premiere and while I agree that there are some narrative holes in the film, all the storylines are neatly tied up at the end. Perhaps a bit too neatly - it would have been more authentic to leave the Lettie character dangling, as representative of what really happens to streetkids who are not placed in places of safety. Director Hickson tries to make an emotional appeal for HIV/AIDS-consciousness and he succeeds in a most brutal fashion. 'Beat the Drum' does what Darryl Roodt couldn't achieve with 'Yesterday': the film makes AIDS real, it places the effects of the disease within the reach of every person watching the film. An added bonus is that it may open the eyes of some commuters in cars to the inside story of the person washing their windscreen at the traffic light.
coco 2006/11/23 10:41 AM
lalasini, I agree I thought Yesterday was empty. Beat the drum is a good movie!
Carrie 2006/11/23 8:31 PM
Beat the Drum I first saw Beat the Drum in Swaziland 3 years ago. I went there with a bunch of American students to educate the youth about the realities of HIV/Aids. The movie was the vehicle with which we could communicate with young people - it directy yet sensitively deals with the misconceptions of HIV, without being condesending. It is a movie that shows the world both the harsh realities of living in South Africa and the sheer beauty of this country. It is a movie that South Africans can be proud of!
Robert Vaughan 2006/12/01 4:00 AM
Beat the Drum ... a drum worth beating and a movie worth seeing The movie will get it's first widespread viewing by American audiences on December 1st when it's featured on Showtime at 8:00 p.m. (primetime) ... they're in for a wonderful treat as they finally get to see Junior Singo sparkle as he brings David McBrayer's little "Musa" to the screen! Owen Sejake and Mary Twala are both outstanding! The music is great ... In fact, it's a job well done by all and I predict that little Musa will have a big impact on American audiences!
daivakianersi 2008/09/01 10:43 PM
BEAT THE DRUM Loved this movie. Knew nothing about it before I saw it. Loved Junior in his part. All of the actors were very good. Beautifully photographed, and the scenery is amazing. I would have adoped "Musa" if I could. I watched it twice, which I don't often do. Yes, it is sad, but is does give hope that things can be better.
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