BAM BAM: THE SISTER NANCY STORY (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Leslie Combemale

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The 1982 Reggae tune Bam Bam is the sort of anthem of female empowerment that transcends time and genre. It represents one of the rare female-led reggae performances of that or any era, making Sister Nancy a star at the tender age of 20. Bam Bam has been used and sampled hundreds of times since its release, by some of the most famous musicians in the business. in 2017, Sister Nancy was featured singing bits of the song and credited on the song Bam by Jay-Z. The song is also a subject of much debate and controversy, because although even after 40 years it continues to be sampled and played in heavy rotation, royalties that should have gone to Sister Nancy and her collaborators never came her way. Over the years the tune continued to get new fans, but Sister Nancy had to take a job as an accountant to support her career as a performer. Oh, and another thing, for all the time since its original recording, the master tapes have been missing.

The history of this one song would have been more than enough as subject for a documentary. Instead, in Bam Bam: The Sister Nancy Story, documentarian Alison Duke created a film that tells the history of Bam Bam, while also chronicling the career and life of its performer, Sister Nancy, now known as the Queen of Reggae Dance Hall Music.

With the support and inclusion of Sister Nancy herself, who is never less than an inspiring and powerful presence, Duke builds the film around her, through interviews with her and her daughter Shandy, as well as fans and collaborators that include Janelle Monae, Young Guru, Pete Rock, Renée Neufville, and Sister Carol. For a major part of the screen time, she also speaks to those involved in the original recording, music historians, and folks in the reggae and music industry from the 80s to today.

Whether a member of the multigenerational army of fans of Sister Nancy’s work, or as concert footage shows, one of the many people from Japan to Australia to Brooklyn who consider Bam Bam part of their musical life, this documentary is an affirmation. Sister Nancy’s Queendom and the importance of this iconic song is beyond question. It also follows a complicated journey of the many years she fought for fair compensation to a positive conclusion. As such, it’s certainly offers an important addition to the music documentary genre.

All that having been said, it really should have been split into two films, one about the song and one about the performer. As shown, it is both too long and doesn’t give either subject the singular attention they deserve.

3 out of 5 stars.

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Leslie Combemale

Leslie Combemale writes as Cinema Siren on her own website, CinemaSiren.com, and is a frequent contributor to MPA's TheCredits.org, where she interviews filmmakers above and below the line, with a focus on women and diverse voices. She is the Senior Contributor at AWFJ.org. Leslie is in her 9th year as producer and moderator of the influential "Women Rocking Hollywood" panel at San Diego Comic-Con. She is a world-renowned expert on cinema art and her film art gallery, ArtInsights, located near DC, has celebrated cinema art and artists for 30 years.