That is the question that was on my mind not long into the documentary Summer of Soul. It continued to grow more and more until the credits began to role. Most of the time, when this one word question is in our heads during a film, it is the beginning of the question “Why was this movie made? It is so bad!”
Yet the “Why?” I experienced was referring to the question “Why did it take over fifty years for this to be released?”.
The feature film debut of musician Questlove (the drummer of The Roots), the film shows unseen footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a music festival that took place in the summer of 1969. If you have not heard of it before hand, you are not alone. Of course, it is not as well known as Woodstock, which was occurring that same summer (and had a bigger attendance. However, while Woodstock lasted four days, the Harlem Cultural festival lasted just shy of two months.
I have always felt that no decade has displayed the power of music better than the 1960s, and while the best of the bands of that time were not at this event (or even Woodstock), the list of musicians we see on screen is sensational. So much so in fact that I will not list them all as the less you know going in the more glee you will feel. Some do include The 5th Dimension, Nina Simone, and Stevie Wonder (who was only 19 at the time and doing what he does best.) I have heard many of these musicians before but never once saw any of them perform, even Stevie. When I say it was breathtaking, I mean it literally.
The film also has a plethora of interviewees, from the surviving performers to those who were in the crowd to celebrities. While the conversations indeed revolve around the music, there is also the talk about politics of the late 1960s. It is creepy and poetic how they transition from one of the decade’s assassination to the next. Celebrities range from Lin Manuel Miranda and his father Luis to comedian Chris Rock.
Parents, the film is PG-13, but a rather soft one at that. There is no nudity and some casual swearing. It mainly has to do with the material of the time, including violence and drugs. I would think middle school and above are fine.
The film is referred to as “A Questlove Jawn”. Like many, I went right to google to find out what it meant. It is a word used mainly in eastern Pennsylvania used to refer to a thing, place, person, or event that one need not or cannot give a specific name to. That is uncanny use of the term, for Summer of Soul is a film that I am having indeed finding the right words for. It has to be experienced.