Kris Bowers and Dahi travel the country in Anthem to find out what the national anthem would sound like if it were American-based.
In watching the film, it marks the first time that I learned that “The Star-Spangled Banner” uses a British tune for the music. Now, I know that it was a very different time when Francis Scott Key penned the lyrics in 1814. But still, it just sounds really wrong for the American national anthem to be using British music.
This is a documentary that I more or less expected to happen sooner than later. There’s been controversy surrounding the national anthem in recent years but it’s more or less due to protesting racial injustice. We’ve already seen what happened with Colin Kaepernick when he started kneeling in protest. There are many emotions that one feels upon hearing the tune. It could be pride for one’s country or it could be something else. In any event, this is a film that focuses less on the controversy and more of what it could sound like as an American song. I mean truly American. This country is such a melting pot to where there are so many musical customs that help make America what it is.
To say that Bowers and Dahi travel cross-country would not be an understatement. Some of the key cities in the documentary include:
- Detroit, Mich. (Motown)
- Clarksdale, Miss. (Blues)
- Nashville, Tenn. (Country).
- Tulsa, Okla. (Native American)
- San Francisco, Cal. (Latin American)
Each city leads to a different conversation about subjects such as race, history, and American identity. Ultimately, Bowers and Dahi use the conversations as an opportunity to compose and record a national anthem that better reflects the country as we know it today. It incorporates musical stylings from all across the country. We see it first recorded with lyrics before a high school band tackles the music. Musically, it sounds rather catchy.
There are a lot of conversations that we need to be having today and what happens in Anthem is one of them. I’m not saying that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a problematic song but I also understand why there are people in America that are not proud when it comes on the PA system. Furthermore, I’ll add that what transpires in this film is exactly why Courier-Journal columnist Joe Gerth has been banging the drum about the problems with Kentucky’s state song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” by Stephen Foster. Updating the lyrics in the 20th century is not enough. It’s a reckoning that is long overdue for Kentucky to handle.
DIRECTOR: Peter Nicks
FEATURING: Kris Bowers, Joy Harjo, Ruby Amanfu, D.J. Dahi, Charity Bowden, Cassandra Pena-Govea
Anthem holds its world premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival in the Spotlight Documentary section. Disney’s Onyx Collective will release the film at a later date on Hulu. Grade: 3.5/5
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