photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
i recently watched the AHMIR "QUESTLOVE" THOMPSON-directed SUMMER OF SOUL (...OR WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED (SEARCHLIGHT, 2021) documentary about the long forgotten HARLEM CULTURAL FESTIVAL of 1969. and just to cut to the chase, it is an incredible film. THOMPSON, with a deft sense of economy (in his debut project nonetheless), weaves together a running thread of concurrent narratives of everything from COLONIALISM, PAN-AFRICANISM, APARTHEID, THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, BLACK POWER to even the LUNAR LANDING in order to shed context on the meaningfulness of this massive community event in HARLEM. luminaries from the likes of STEVIE WONDER, B.B. KING, NINA SIMONE, DAVID RUFFIN (of THE TEMPTATIONS), MAHALIA JACKSON, MAVIS STAPLES, GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS and SLY STONE among many others participated in this incredible event. someone had the foresight of recording and filming these highly energetic and affecting performances for posterity.
and then just like that the footage sat in a vault for fifty years.
and for me that is the painful admission of this film. the sheer utter expendable nature of the BLACK EXPERIENCE in AMERICA. as glorious as the music is (and it is glorious) and the witnessed psychic connection between audience and artist (especially in regards to the SLY STONE, NINA SIMONE and STEVIE WONDER performances), it is impossible to watch this and not feel a pit in your stomach at how performances this rich and culturally significant was deemed disposable by generations of presumably WHITE gatekeepers in the media. it feels CRIMINAL. its effectively cultural arson. if not for this film, the 1969 HARLEM CULTURAL FESTIVAL would have remained unknown. forget culture for a second, just in terms of history this event would have been significant as it was an attempt to provide energy, optimism and cohesion to an embattled BLACK COMMUNITY in transition from an especially turbulent decade that saw the untimely deaths of numerous leaders and allies as a result of the political progress gained from the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.
i just felt angry watching this film. how did this happen? sadly the same tides of inhumanity and prejudice that crashed down on AMERICAN society back in the 1960s seem to be ebbing and flowing back with greater force in recent years. its unfortunate that most can understand exactly why an event of such artistry and potency could be effectively deleted from our collective memory. WHITE AMERICA still needs to come to terms with its checkered history. its inability to view their fellow countrymen as equal humans. nearly 250 years into this experiment and we are still stumbling out of the starting gate.
SUMMER OF SOUL is a deeply affecting film that should be watched by all and studied and celebrated for generations to come. cant recommend it anymore emphatically.