Summer of Soul (...Or When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)
I’m a bit late to the game, as this documentary came out last year, but I’ve been telling anyone who will listen about it! It’s your turn, faithful newsletter readers. So, the premise is interesting enough on its own: a huge series of summer concerts happened in the heart of Harlem during the summer of 1969. It was extensively filmed and incredibly well attended but the footage sat in a basement for 50 years and got upstaged by Woodstock. The film sat in a basement for fifty years until someone found it, Questlove got a hold of it, and this documentary was born. A story about long lost footage piqued my interest on that premise alone, but holy shit there is so much more in Summer of Soul that had me mesmerized.
The footage is amazing- seas of people dancing and singing to an absolutely insane lineup. Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder….It would’ve been a shame if we never got to see these performances. Throughout the movie, I found myself thinking about what it must’ve felt like to be the first people to watch this in 50 years. To stumble upon this magic? Insane. Questlove really did this story justice. Watching the documentary felt like discovering something magical.
The talking heads in this documentary are a mixture of people that performed and attended the concerts. I could’ve easily sat and watched the found footage from start to finish, but seeing these people react to this thing that had only been a memory for FIFTY YEARS is almost as amazing as the footage itself. This event was revolutionary. It was a showcase of black culture in a predominantly black neighborhood during a time in America where it was even harder than it is now to be black. It was in 1969, but you can still feel the electricity today. Obviously there’s only so much I can say as a white girl, but the information provided by the interviews doesn’t shy away from talking about the influence on black culture. The whole story and documentary is almost more powerful from a 2021-22 perspective because of how far we’ve come, but also how little has changed.
All that being said, check out the trailer and the soundtrack to this movie, but most of all PUHLEASE watch it.