Meet Alexandra Shipp
Star of 'Drumline' sequel marches to her own beat
When Drumline hit theaters in December 2002, the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) band tradition was in a much stronger position. The Atlanta Football Classic, the event the film's big showdown is modeled after, was one of this city's and nation's most well-attended events, thanks in large part to the popularity of Florida A&M's famed Marching 100 band. So Drumline's arrival, spearheaded by Georgia's own hit Grammy-winning producer Dallas Austin, was viewed more as Hollywood finally catching up.
Fast forward 12 years, and a lot has changed. Rocked by the hazing death of drum major and Decatur native Robert Champion on Nov. 19, 2011, the Marching 100 is no longer the force it once was. Attendance for the Atlanta Football Classic and similar games in other cities has plummeted. Not exactly the most ideal climate for a sequel, some would argue. Yet buzz for Drumline: A New Beat, a VH1 original film, has been solid. When VH1 announced earlier this year that it would film the sequel, Buzzfeed's Jamie Etkin approvingly responded with "27 Reasons Why A 'Drumline' Sequel Is Everything You Never Knew You Wanted."
This time around, Alexandra Shipp, best known by the tween audiences as KT Rush in Nickelodeon's "House of Anubis," stars as Dani, a freshman from a rich family who defies her parents by choosing to attend fictional HBCU Atlanta A&T, over Spelman College. On top of that, Dani has hopes of fulfilling her dream of leading the male-dominated drumline. Nick Cannon, who played Devon Miles in the original, produced this sequel and has cameo in the movie, which was again shot in Atlanta.
Much like Zoe Saldana when she played Laila, Devon's love interest in the first film, Shipp — who's starring in the title role for Lifetime's forthcoming Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B and as Ice Cube's wife Kim in the highly anticipated N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton — is on the verge of stardom, and this new Drumline is critical to her trajectory. During a visit to the College Football Hall of Fame earlier this month to celebrate the 2014 Atlanta Football Classic, Leonard Roberts, who played Devin's rival Sean Taylor in the first film, joined Shipp, and other costars. In the sequel, Robert's Sean is now Dr. Taylor, the A&T band director, taking over for Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones).
"What's so beautiful about the story is it's not the story that we know, but it definitely plays on the story we know, so you got your throwback moments, you got your in-depth moments where you're learning a little bit more about Dr. Taylor," the 23-year-old Shipp says. "There's so much content in this movie, and it's all about finding yourself."
Dr. Taylor's potential love interest is also an ex, A&T's dean Dr. Nia Phillips (former Destiny's Child member LeToya Luckett). "There's a lot of revisiting of things that Sean kind of walked away from after school," Roberts says. "It was fun to kind of look at it from a new perspective."
Other interesting storylines include a budding gay romance and a possible interracial relationship with a white male band member (Scott Shillstone), as well as a black female character played by Atlanta native Jasmine Burke, who was an extra in the first film and later booted from Sean "Diddy" Comb's girl group Danity Kane. Dani, of course, has a love interest all her own in hotshot Jayven Lapierre, played by Jordan Calloway, probably best known for his role as Zach in Nickelodeon's "Unfabulous."
"Drumline was one of my top ten movies as I was growing up because there's something about it that really inspires you to be creative, do bigger things, go for the gold, which I really loved," Shipp says. "When Drumline came out, I saw it in theaters twice."
Initially, Shipp confessed, she wanted to be Zoe Saldana more than anything, but later had a change of heart. "I switched over and wanted to be the cool girl who played the bass drum Diedre, played by Candace Carey," she says. "She made it cool to be the tough girl on the line, and I actually drew a little bit from her character as well, just that toughness and that rawness that she really brought to it because, when you're in a man's world, you kinda gotta play by men's rules."
For Shipp, real-life schooling came from her stunt double, Lacyona Muldrow, a female section leader for the South Carolina State University drumline.
"There's a good amount of strife, obviously, for women on the line," Shipp says. "But there's a lot of camaraderie. Once you get past that hump of people getting to know you and people getting to appreciate your talent, then you get into like, 'these are my brothers, these people are my family, this is my team, this is my crew.'"
And that's a timeless message that's never twelve years too late.