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Film / Drumline

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A 2002 comedy-drama film directed by Charles Stone III, starring Nick Cannon and Orlando Jones.

Devon Miles (Cannon) is a masterful, but arrogant freshman drummer for the marching band at the fictitious college Atlanta A&T. Devon is drafted by band director Dr. Lee who sees his talent while scouting. His self-important attitude puts him at odds with upperclassman and coalition leader Sean Taylor. The band director, Dr. Lee (Jones), struggles with whether Devon's talent overshadows the damage his behavior brings to the band.

A made-for-TV sequel called Drumline: A New Beat was released in 2014, starring Alexandra Shipp as Dani Bolton, a full of herself drummer attending A&T. Leonard Roberts reprised his role of Sean Taylor as the new band director at A&T. Nick Cannon also returned.

This film provides examples of:

  • Achilles' Heel: Devon can't read music.
  • Artistic License – Music: The printed music that comes out of a snare drum solo in the middle of the movie has sharps and flats, despite the fact that a snare drum has only one note (roughly, "bang"). Besides the "bang," (notated with a note) there are also flams (where both sticks hit the drum at the same speed with one slightly higher than the other; notated with one grace note to another note), double strokes (where two notes are played in one hand throughout the duration of the beat specified; notated with a slash through the note's stem), rim shots (where the shoulder of the stick hits the rim at the same time as the tip of the stick hitting the head; notated with an x on the line where notes are), and many other notations which do not use sharps or flats.
    • Perhaps more importantly, there is no such magical computer program that transcribes your playing onto paper. At least, not one that works. The only such system that actually exists are MIDI notation programs, with a synthesizer interfacing a computer.
  • Author Appeal: In-canon; Lee refuses to let the band play music other than the old-school stuff he likes, even risking the band over it. He eventually learns to compromise.
  • Author Avatar: The story, and Devon's character, are both based on music director Dallas Austin.
  • Beta Couple: Deidre and Ernest.
  • Break the Haughty: Devon thinks the entire band should revolve around him solely because of his talent. He has a rough time learning that natural talent will only get him so far.
  • Broken Pedestal: Mr. Wade is Dr. Lee's former teacher despite their philosophical differences and contemporary rivalry. This leads to Calling the Old Man Out.
  • Call-Back: The sequel makes plenty of references to the original film, including clips of the Classic from the end, including Leaning on the Fourth Wall.
  • Challenging the Chief: Devon attempts to do this when he wins a contest with Sean over who can play the longest while maintaining eye contact. Dr. Lee instead calls him out for being a Jerkass and then beats him in turn.
  • Disappeared Dad: Ray Miles. Though he is proud of Devon's accomplishments and sends him a selection of his own drumming when he's down.
  • Down to the Last Play: The tie at the competition is broken with a showdown of the two drumlines.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Jayson feels betrayed when his roommate challenges him for his P2 position.
  • Face Disqualification With Dignity: In both of the challenges, the loser simply nods when Dr. Lee whispers to them that they've lost.
  • Fanservice: The scantily-clad dancers in the BET Classic are shown gratuitously during the trailer.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a band movie, crossed with a sports movie!
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Devon shows up Sean many times during the first act of the film due to his natural talent despite Sean being older and more experienced. The downside to this is that Devon is initially a showboating jerk who cares more about his own glory than the good of the band. It takes getting kicked off the band after starting a fight and a drum battle with Sean for Devon to finally learn some humility.
  • Hard-Work Montage: Several.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Sean.
  • Heel Realization: Sean realizes that there's ultimately no point in antagonizing Devon. Dr. Lee eventually calls him on his spiteful behavior, implying that he's intimidated by Devon instead of trying to help him. This leads to Sean taking a more of a relaxed mentor role toward Devon, allowing the latter to see the value of learning music.
  • Honor Before Reason: Dr. Lee prioritizes education in his band program over entertainment, meaning he plays music like Flight of the Bumblebee at football games. This has put the school on a losing streak in band competitions and the president is not happy about it.
  • Important Haircut: Devon's Character Development begins with him submitting to a head shaving, showing that he's starting to shed his It's All About Me attitude.
  • Jerkass: Devon, initially. Though he does have nicer moments with his friends.
    • As was Sean, who let being section leader go to his head.
    • Not to mention Mr. Wade for flattering Devon to try to get him to transfer just so he can get inside information for the Classic.
  • Jerk Ass Has A Point: Despite the fact that Mr. Wade was Dr. Lee’s rival, he rightfully points out the Dr. Lee needs to loosen up and play better music. He eventually does.
  • Just Like Making Love:
    Sean: Playing the drums... it's like making love. You can't keep looking down and seeing what's going on down there.
  • Lame Comeback: A unique musical variation. During a game, the Morris Brown band plays "Apache (Tonto, jump on it)" and, at the behest of Dr. Lee, Atlanta A&T responds with....Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee". Morris Brown then quips with The 45 King's "The 900 Number" with people even on A&T's side dancing. You know you messed up when members of your own band and people in the crowd are nodding to the rival band's music. Now, don't get us wrong. "Flight of the Bumblebee" is a timeless piece of classical music, but you just don't clap back with it to a Top 40 hit.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In A New Beat, Sean calls Devon and brings him down to help inspire the band and they decide to play together. When Devon asks how long it's been since they did, Sean says twelve years, the exact amount of time between movies.
  • Legendary in the Sequel: Devon is a big name hip-hop artist by the time of the sequel.
  • Monochrome Casting: All main characters of the film are black except for Jayson. There are also only two or three non-African American background characters in the entire band. The movie is set at an Expy of a historically black college. Happens again in the sequel, with Josh being the new Jayson.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Perhaps the most common reaction to the film is "Gee, who knew that marching bands were the most badass thing ever?"
    • Just watch Dr. Lee conducting the band during their homecoming performance of the "King's Motorcade" from Coming to America. If you replaced the field with an open plain, the music with magical elements dancing around, and Dr. Lee's suit with wizard's robes, it wouldn't look too out of place.
  • Product Placement: Pretty much every snare and bass drum in the film has Pearl's brand name stamped on the side, while the tenor drum sets are split between Pearl and Yamaha. The cymbals are almost exclusively from Zildjian, as well. (Also Truth in Television: Most colleges with bands tend to buy their instruments in bulk and from trusted brands, resulting in this.)
  • The Rival: Sean to Devon.
    • The Morris Brown College Marching Wolverine Band is this to the Atlanta A&T Panthers.
    • And Dr. Lee to Mr. Wade.
  • Second-Act Breakup: Between Devon and Laila. It's implied they get back together before rehearsals for the Classic start.
  • Serious Business: Bands, though it's not much of an exaggeration. Also, "musicianship."
    • An amusing shot early in the film pans across each section of the band, with each section leader emphatically explaining why their section is the most important.
      • Truth in Television. Percussion keeps the beat, low brass/woodwinds are the root and backbone of the band, high woodwinds do all the crazy fast stuff, and high brass handles those huge impacts and high notes... and each section knows they're the most important.
  • Shout-Out: The band plays the epic "King's Motorcade" from Coming to America in a scene, with Dr. Lee's appropriately commanding presence as conductor.
  • Shown Their Work: Though there's plenty of Artistic License – Music in the cadences and techniques, the way the band is run, and life on it, is pretty spot-on to life on a real marching band. This crosses into invokedGenius Bonus territory when Dr. Lee absolutely insists on Devon being able to read sheet music. Why is that? Because marching band sheet music is designed with extreme precision; it is a very complex notation that keeps the individual carefully choreographed with his section mates, and helps keep the section timed with the rest of the band. That's triply important in a drumline, which keeps the beat for the entire band. Devon may not need to read music to learn his cadences, but he absolutely must be able to do so to make sure his playing matches up with everyone else in the band - right from the start of the learning curve. Until he can read music, he can never be a team player - literally.
    • Devon playing on the opposing side's drum starts a brawl between the two bands. It's considered an insult of the highest caliber in drumline circles.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Devon's primary character flaw, though he does mature.
  • The Stoic: Dr. Lee.
  • Straight Gay: Leon in the sequel. His lack of camp is even referenced.
    Leon: You know not all of us snap our fingers, right?
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Devon arrives at A & T full of attitude counting on his raw talent to carry him through. However, when it is revealed that he lied on his application about his qualifications, he is immediately dropped to P-4 despite his talent, and later dropped from the band completely when he starts a fight with a rival school. It is only through school politics that he is back on the field after the first incident, and he ends up almost losing his scholarship over the latter.
  • Talent vs. Training: Devon is a gifted drummer who is able to easily memorize an audition piece despite not being able to read music. Sean, while not as naturally talented as Devon, honed his drumming skills through disciplined training and learning from his mistakes.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Dr. Lee focuses on musical classics, insists on all his players knowing how to read music and prefers to "educate, then entertain". Mr. Wade, his counterpart at Morris Brown, has his band play music more popular with the zeitgeist and even incorporates appearances from popular artists like Petey Pablo into his performances.
    • Lee does show that he is not inflexible and evolves his direction to incorporate a more contemporary style.
  • Token White: Jayson is the only white guy among the main cast and one of only a few white characters seen among the A&T students. Lampshaded with his nickname "Affirmative Action".
  • Took a Level in Badass: Devon, believe it or not, once he finally puts aside his grudge against the world (and Sean!) and starts learning to be a disciplined member of the band. In the drumline-duel at the end, he and Sean together lead the line flawlessly, and he doesn't so much as twitch when Morris Brown tries to taunt him into a reaction by banging on A&T's drums. That unflinching discipline in the face of Morris Brown's classlessness likely won them the duel, and the competition.
    • Well, he twitches a little, but not nearly as badly as earlier in the film when he gets into a fistfight during a competition.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Devon knows full well that he's the most talented drummer at A&T, and assumes that his talent will enable him to get away with as much jackassery as he wants. He's right about the first part, but painfully wrong about the second. While being The Prima Donna might fly if he were a professional musician playing in a rock band or a jazz band, those same rules don't apply in a university marching band, where cooperation and teamwork matter more than anything else.