Review: ‘The Tuba Thieves,’ starring Nyeisha ‘Nyke’ Prince, Geovanny Marroquin, Russell Harvard and Warren ‘Wawa’ Snipe

April 8, 2024

by Carla Hay

Geovanny Marroquin (pictured at left) in “The Tuba Thieves” (Photo courtesy of PBS)

“The Tuba Thieves”

Directed by Alison O’Daniel

Some language in American Sign Language with subtitles

Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Tuba Thieves” features a racially diverse group of people (African Americans, white, Latin and Asian) who are connected in some way to music or the deaf community.

Culture Clash: The experiences of deaf people are contrasted with those of people with hearing abilities.

Culture Audience: “The Tuba Thieves” will appeal primarily to people interested in stream-of-consciousness documentaries that don’t tell a cohesive story but just show a collection of moving images.

Manuel Castañeda in “The Tuba Thieves” (Photo courtesy of PBS)

“The Tuba Thieves” has a misleading title and tries too hard to be an avant-garde documentary about deaf people. It’s really a pretentious, disjointed and tedious film that wants to fool people into thinking that it’s got something important to say. Don’t expect to learn very much about the people in the documentary, which has an unfocused collection of “slice of life” scenes awkwardly placed with re-enactments. “The Tuba Thieves” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and made the rounds at several other film festivals in 2023, including CPH:DOX and the Sydney Film Festival.

Directed by Alison O’Daniel, “The Tuba Thieves” has this logline: “From 2011
to 2013, tubas were stolen from Los Angeles high schools. This is not a story about
thieves or missing tubas. Instead, it asks what it means to listen.” What’s in this documentary are very boring scenes of some deaf people having dull conversations. Surely, their lives are more interesting than what ended up in this sloppily made film.

The deaf person who is most prominently featured in “The Tuba Thieves” is Nyeisha “Nyke” Prince, whose occupation is not mentioned in the documentary but she describes herself as a “fashion blogger, hair stylist and model” on her social media accounts. Prince is not seen doing any fashion blogging, hair styling or modeling in this weak and uninteresting film. Instead, she’s shown having forgettable conversations with other deaf people, including her lover Russell Harvard, who calls himself Nature Boy in the movie.

There are a few non-nudity scenes of Prince and Harvard in bed together. And then at one point, it’s shown that Prince has become pregnant during the making of the film, and she knows that the unborn child is a girl. The only real insight into Prince’s personality is when she has a conversation with an older friend named Warren “Wawa” Snipe and expresses her concerns about how good her mothering skills will be when she won’t be able to hear things, such as her baby crying.

Even less is revealed in the documentary about Geovanny Marroquin, who was a drum major at Centennial High School in Compton California, during the fall semester of 2011, when eight tubas were stolen. If you think it’s fascinating to see Marroquin get a palm reading or climbing out of a house window, then “The Tuba Thieves” is the movie for you. Marroquin says nothing in the documentary about his perspective of being a student at the school that had these thefts. Centennial High School band leader Manuel Castañeda is shown re-enacting finding out that the tubas have gone missing.

“The Tuba Thieves” has some scenes of journalist Sam Quinones, who covered the news about the tuba thefts in The Los Angeles Sentinel. In one of the scenes Quinones interview, Hector Aguirre and Erik Huerta, who were students at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, California, when four tubas were stolen during the winter break of 2011-2012. That’s about the extent of any “investigation” shown in the movie. Aguirre and Huerta have nothing meaningful to add to the story. Quinones is also seen doing an unrelated interview with Voces del Rancho members Mariano Fernandez and Edgar Rodriguez about Mexican singer Chalino Sánchez, who used tuba instruments in his songs and who became popular in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

“The Tuba Thieves” production notes describe the documentary’s re-enactment scenes: “In ‘The Tuba Thieves,’ Los Angeles life during the time of the tuba thefts is interrupted by unconventional reenactments of historic concerts: an irritated man leaves John Cage’s 1952 premiere of 4’33″ (where a pianist sat at a piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds without playing a note); punks and Deafies intermingle at the 1979 final punk show at
an infamous Deaf Club in San Francisco; and students tell how they organized a 1984 surprise Prince concert at the Deaf University Gallaudet.” In other words, “The Tuba Thieves” has meaningless filler.

Also in this meandering documentary are scenes of airplanes flying. Why? Just to have sounds of airplanes in the movie. There’s also hidden camera footage of wild animals (such as lions) in an area that appears to be the Hollywood Hills. Watching an entire documentary about these animals would be infinitely more entertaining and informative than the self-satisfied and empty tripe that’s in the “The Tuba Thieves.”

PBS released “The Tuba Thieves” in New York City on March 15, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cities, as of March 22, 2024. The movie will premiere on the PBS series “Independent Lens” on a date to be announced.

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