In The Sunmer of Soul ( … Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) by first time filmmaker, Questlove, is a feature documentary about a legendary concert series promoting Black culture and pride during the summer of 1969 in Harlem. In it, he tries to right a wrong in which yet again, Black history had been erased from American minds and archives. A virtual cornucopia of Black music and comedy talent took to the stage over a 6-weekend period, with thousands in attendance. It was taped, but soon after the stage was cleared and summer long gone, the tapes were put in a vault never to see the light of day until now and thanks to the determination of Questlove. Interwoven with the footage, are several current day interviews with Harlem residents who attended the concert, and musical participants, such as Mavis Staples, Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis and Gladys Knight.
More than a concert or music documentary, The Summer of Soul shines a light on the importance of history to our emotional and cultural well being, and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest. It also served as a catalyst to bring Black and brown communities together, with Puerto Rican residents in attendance and Afro-Latino performers sharing stage time. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and many more. Highlighting the concerts’ importance to the community in historical context is a key film theme as residents had been beaten down by poor housing conditions, drugs and racism, as well as coming on the heels of the deaths of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Likewise, the reasons for the concert being overlooked are explored. The obvious is white supremacy and the need to repress Black excellence, but also theorized is the fact that another big, multi-act concert was taking place at the same time one state over- Woodstock. Whatever the reasons, it is a relevant and appreciated that the concert footage has been unearth, restored and available for all to enjoy in-theaters and streaming on Hulu.