Two Oakland filmmakers working at the top of their craft deliver two vastly different works available to stream this month. One is a documentary chronicling the creation of a new American anthem and the other is a surreal fictional series about a 13-foot-tall man in Oakland.
Subscribe to our weekly arts & culture newsletter
In award-winning director Peter Nicks’ “Anthem,” composer Kris Bowers teams with producer DJ Dahi; they embark on a road trip, visiting influential musicians living in creative hotspots in America with the goal of writing a new national anthem that reflects the country today. Their journey takes them all over, including into San Francisco’s Mission District where they chat with San Francisco singer-trumpeter and activist Cecilia Peña-Govea, aka La Doña.
They want to introduce a new song that represents and celebrates all Americans; one that acknowledges everyone’s origins and addresses hardships they have encountered. It’s a daunting task. But Bowers and DJ Dahi become more and more enriched by lively, intelligent discussions they have in the process.
The “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with lyrics written by poet Francis Scott Key and set to an old British tune, eventually turns into the collaborative piece “We Are America.”
Nicks, whose Oakland documentaries (“The Waiting Room,” “The Force” and “Homeroom”) earned accolades, also provides historical context. One of the film’s strongest sections recaps the outrage that performers such as Jimi Hendrix encountered when they took the anthem in a new direction.
“Anthem” is a thoughtful look at the creative process and how differing views can lead to a complete whole. It hits just the right notes about teamwork and the staying power of music.
Produced under Disney’s Onyx Collective and available on Hulu, “Anthem” is available to stream June 28; it even includes a post-scene with the Oakland High School band performing the new song.
Oakland’s Boots Riley continues to show he’s a force who puts his unique stamp on anything he does in his new inventive and innovative Prime Video seven-episode series, “I’m a Virgo.” If you saw his 2018 jaw-dropping film debut, the genre-defiant “Sorry to Bother You,” you’ll know what to expect. Others: Buckle up for another wild ride.
The quirky series addresses issues confronting not just Oakland, where it is set, but all over the nation. Jharrel Jerome stars as 13-foot-tall Cootie, a 19-year-old eager to break away from his overprotective aunt and uncle so he can make friends, discover the world outside—a not-always friendly place where money rules—and even meet his “Hero.” Co-star Walter Goggins is terrific as the one behind the comic-book Hero. It’s a great delight to see Oakland take center stage, just like it does on the Starz series “Blindspotting.”