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As seen in the Transitions Abroad Webzine June 2008 Issue
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Beat the Drum Movie Review 2003, David Hickson, (English/Zulu)

Reviewed by Volker Poelzl

Beat the Drum

As the title suggests the movie was made to call attention to the rampant AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. As of June 2008, 12 million children in Africa are AIDS orphans, and 30 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are HIV positive. The movie had only a limited run at movie theaters,  but it was shown at 29 film festivals all over the world and won numerous awards. Beat the Drum was also shown on 40,000 flights on 34 airlines in November and December 2006 in commemoration of World AIDS Day, to raise money for African charities. Although the movie has mostly attracted international attention by raising increased awareness about AIDS in Africa, the film does much more than "beat the drum" about AIDS.

It is a beautifully told story about a young boy, Musa, who travels  across parts of South Africa and experiences first-hand the devastating effect HIV/AIDS has on his native village and his country.

The movie opens with pans and aerial shots of the Ukhahlamba Valley in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, but the beauty and grandeur of the scenery soon give way to scenes from the bleak reality of a small local village. Musa mourns the death of his mother at her grave, and the other children in the village reject him, because they believe that his family is cursed. Musa returns home to his father who also suffers from AIDS.

These early scenes introduce viewers to traditional tribal culture and their superstitions about the origins of illness, especially AIDS. The village sangoma (healer) tells the grandmother that her son has neglected an ancestor and that a sacrifice is necessary while there is still time. The grandmother agrees to have her only cow sacrificed, but only a few moments later Musa’s father dies. Just before dying, Musa’s father gives him a drum, and tells his son, “I made it for you, my son. I saved it for when we are happy, for a time when we celebrate our ancestors, but I want you to have it now.” It is this drum that accompanies the boy on his quest to find his uncle in Johannesburg and to find work so that the family can buy another cow.

In Johannesburg he quickly becomes part of the world of street children, most of them AIDS orphans, and the movie follows his journey of coming of age and understanding the causes of AIDS, while he keeps looking for his uncle and earning pocket money to take back to his family.

American writer and producer W. David McBrayer came up with the idea for the movie during a trip to Kenya and South Africa, when he noticed the large number of street kids everywhere, many of them orphaned. This experience led him to write the script for "Beat the Drum," in order “to give a voice to people who normally don’t have a voice,” as he put it. The movie was filmed with an entirely South African cast and crew, including South African director David Hickson. Hickson said in a CNN interview:  “As a film maker in South Africa one finds oneself surrounded by so many problems that are so huge they almost seem insurmountable. But I wanted to make a film about something, which would just bring the attention of people around the world to the problems that we face and to explore different cultures and see how different cultures can work together to tackle the problems that we face in this country.”

The movie ends on a note of hope, showing that it is possible to prevent AIDS from spreading and that it is possible to help the many AIDS orphans that crowd South Africa’s cities. “It’s a brand new day,” Musa says at the very end of the movie. With the increased awareness about HIV/AIDS the movie helped raise in Africa, Musa’s words are hopefully true for many other AIDS orphans as well.

To find out more about the movie, visit

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