During the virtual Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, The Tonight Show bandleader and The Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson debuted a documentary about The Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969, an event that would come to be dubbed “Black Woodstock.” Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) chronicles the often-overlooked event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion across six weeks, including performances by B.B. King, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Stevie Wonder, and more. Much of this footage has remained mostly unseen for over 50 years, but this summer, you’ll be able to see some of it for yourself on Hulu.
Following its debut at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Summer of Soul was picked up by Searchlight Pictures (formerly Fox Searchlight) to play in theaters and on Hulu. Now the studio and streamer have announced that Summer of Soul will arrive both on the big screen and on Hulu starting on July 2, 2021, just in time for an Independence Day celebration.
If you weren’t paying attention back when the movie played Sundance, here’s the festival’s synopsis for the film:
In 1969, during the same summer as Woodstock, a different music festival took place 100 miles away. More than 300,000 people attended the summer concert series known as the Harlem Cultural Festival. It was filmed, but after that summer, the footage sat in a basement for 50 years. It has never been seen. Until now.
Summer Of Soul is a stunning unearthed treasure destined to become a pillar of American music and African American history. In his striking debut as a filmmaker, the legendary musician Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents this transporting documentary—part concert film, part historical record—about an epic event that radiated the wholesale reevaluation of Black history, culture, fashion, and music. This rich tapestry deftly incorporates an unforgettable musical revue that includes many rare gems, such as a Stevie Wonder drum solo and a duet between Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples. Summer Of Soul shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music.
Summer of Soul, which won both Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance in January, has talking heads with some of the surviving performers, attendees, and cameramen who shot the footage, as well as modern creatives like Chris Rock and Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s insightful and thoroughly entertaining as it puts you right in the middle of the event that unfolded in Mount Morris Park (now called Marcus Garvey Park), just 100 miles south of the famous Woodstock concert.
Our own Ben Pearson watched Summer of Soul during Sundance, and he wrote in his review that the film “allows the audience to revel in the music, the atmosphere, and the uninhibited Blackness of this forgotten festival,” but it also takes advantage of the opportunity “to recount the history of Harlem during that era, using certain songs and musical acts as jumping-off points to explore the social and political changes that they represented (or, in some cases, helped inspire).”
This is one of the films that I missed during the quick virtual Sundance Film Festival, and I’m excited to soak in this rarely seen moment in history when it arrives on Hulu this summer.
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