Kaepernick’s career-ending act of conscience

Colin Kaepernick (center) takes a knee during a pre-game rendition of the national anthem in 2016. Flanking him are teammates Eli Harold (58) and Eric Reid (35). (Photo: Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS/Alamy Live News)

By Richard Ades

Kaepernick & America, a new documentary on blackballed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, points up an ironic fact: When the then-San Francisco 49er began taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016, he saw it as a way of protesting America’s racial injustice without disrespecting its flag.

Earlier, Kaepernick had simply remained seated during the anthem to speak out against incidents of police violence against Black men. But then Nate Boyer—a 49ers fan who’d served as a Green Beret—sent Kaepernick an open letter saying he considered this a hurtful act. The two met, and Boyer suggested taking a knee as a more respectful way of getting his point across.

So Kaepernick began dropping to one knee, only to be booed by fans—and by a presidential candidate who never missed a chance to foment anger, particularly against people of color. The quarterback’s career soon came to an end.

Directors Tommy Walker and Ross Hockrow interview several people who speak about Kaepernick on several levels: as a star quarterback who felt called upon to risk censure for the sake of his beliefs; as a person of mixed race and cultures, with all the additional pressures that entailed; and as the perfect foil for Donald Trump, who riled up supporters by saying team owners should fire any player who refused to stand for the flag.

Among the interviewees are CNN news anchor Don Lemon; Hue Jackson, one of the few Black men who’ve coached NFL teams; and DeRay Mckesson, a Black Lives Matter activist. Others include April Dinwoodie, an authority on transracial adoption, who theorizes about how Kaepernick might have been shaped by his personal history as a mixed-race child who was adopted and raised by White parents.

One person who isn’t interviewed is Kaepernick himself, who no longer seems interested in commenting on the controversy he inspired. It’s therefore understandable that he appears only in archival footage, but it’s also disappointing. His absence may leave viewers feeling they don’t really know the man who was willing to pay such a high price simply for exercising his right to free speech.

On the other hand, viewers will be all too familiar with the picture of America the film presents: one in which angry White men with guns use Kaepernick’s No. 7 jersey for target practice. We recognize this picture because it bears such a close resemblance to the America we still live in.

One commentator predicts that Kaepernick eventually will be seen as someone who—like the late Muhammad Ali—took an unpopular stance that ultimately was seen to be the right one. That note of optimism seems particularly justified following the 2020 police murder of George Floyd, with its new and lethal twist on “taking a knee.”

If that reconciliation ever happens, it may be of some consolation to Kaepernick, but it still won’t bring back his career.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Kaepernick & America will be available through streaming outlets beginning Sept. 2.

Sexual assault’s aftermath puts interracial couple to the test

Test Pattern, written and directed by Shatara Michelle Ford, delves into sexual and racial politics as it shows what happens after a woman is violated while incapacitated by drugs and alcohol. For a review, visit the Columbus Free Press website.

Teaching self-respect one drumbeat at a time

River City Drummers
Members of Louisville’s River City Drum Corp hold forth in a typically spirited number.

By Richard Ades

“Black arts matter!” Ed “Nardie” White declares early in River City Drumbeat. That’s the central message of the documentary, which focuses on the institution White created nearly three decades ago to help young African Americans forge their own future.

The River City Drum Corp teaches Louisville youngsters how to make and play drums in routines featuring African-inspired rhythms and spirited choreography. But the group’s real purpose, it’s clear, is to give them a sense of purpose and a sense of direction when it comes to mapping out their lives.

Several scenes explain the real dangers these kids face growing up in neighborhoods with a liquor store on each corner and nearly omnipresent gunfire. In the saddest of these, White recalls the granddaughter he was unable to save from a dangerous lifestyle that resulted in her senseless death.

Directed by Marlon Johnson and Anne Flatte, the 94-minute documentary unfolds in a style that sometimes seems slow and meandering. However, patient viewers will be rewarded with insights into the philosophy that inspired White through the years—and in turn has inspired many of the youngsters who fell under his influence.

River City Drumbeat White
Ed “Nardie” White founded the River City Drum Corp nearly three decades ago.

Spread chronologically over several months, the film follows White as he prepares to turn over his leadership role to one of those grownup youngsters: Albert Shumake, a deejay who is willing to reorder his life to keep the group going. In the process, we learn about the important role White’s late wife, Zambia, played in both men’s lives. It was she who served as Albert’s cheerleader when a teacher told him he would never amount to anything, and it was she who convinced White that the drum group was too important to abandon.

By introducing us to some of the ensemble’s soon-to-be former members—all of them high school seniors with college in their sights—the film demonstrates that Zambia was right.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

River City Drumbeat may be streamed from Aug. 14 through Sept. 10 via Columbus’s Wexner Center (wexarts.org). A 72-hour rental is $12. For other viewing opportunities, visit rivercitydrumbeat.com/screenings.