Review: Much to Love About Star-Studded ‘Summer of Soul’

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“Summer of Soul” (July 2)
Rated PG-13
(Searchlight Pictures & Hulu) 

Questlove (Photo courtesy of the director)

“That concert took my life from black and white into color.”

Even with a little advice from Spike Lee and Ava DuVernay, the mere fact that Questlove was able to successfully salvage and sift through dozens of hours of archival footage and cull it into the stunning directorial debut “Summer of Soul” is a remarkably impressive achievement.

And considering the lineup includes Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Sly & The Family Stone, B. B. King, Ray Barretto and Max Roach–to name just a few–makes the task all the more daunting.

Although it was pitched to and turned down by all of the networks as the “Black Woodstock,” the Harlem Cultural Festival was already an annual summer event.

However, that particular year of 1969, it was attended by well over a quarter of a million people and filmed over a period of six weekends.

Seeing this brilliant and meticulously curated project is literally watching history during a pivotal, transformative and volatile point in American and world history. The way the film managed to ingeniously layer music, politics, dance, poetry, standup comedy, interviews while keeping it all within very specific, mesmerizing historical context is nothing short of astounding.

Click to view trailer.

Continually watching the seas of beautiful Black and Brown faces with their fully realized, expressive styles, hair, fashion and even the food, is a deeply moving exchange as well.

There are far too many highlights to mention or spoil with many of these icons and living legends but I dare say the duet between Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson is one of the most explosive and unforgett

able moments you will ever see onscreen.

Like myself, whether you grew up with this music or were raised in households immersed within it or simply studied any and all national and international culture that’s been forever changed and influenced by it, “Summer of Soul” is an unbelievably rich, boundless, intensely enjoyable and ultimately life-changing concert documentary.

You will not only find yourself informed and enriched by “Summer of Love,” it’s the kind of historic, frozen-in-amber zeitgeist you’ll want to experience over and over and over again.



Andre is a Los Angeles-based writer and stand-up comedian.

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