Watch The Trailer
Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Summer of Soul is part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture, and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just 100 miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was never seen and largely forgotten--until now.
Questlove’s magnificent documentary of the forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival gives moving context to rediscovered footage of Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone et al in their prime
Produced and MCed by Tony Lawrence (“a hustler, in the best sense”), and supported by the liberal Republican New York Mayor, John Lindsay, with security by the Black Panthers, the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival played out over six weekends in Mount Morris Park at a time of profound cultural re-evaluation, a year on from the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King. Up in space, Neil Armstrong may have been taking one small step for a man, but as one festival goer states: “Never mind the moon, let’s get some of that cash in Harlem.”
Blending wry laughter with piercing insight, interviewees explain how the word “Black” shifted from a fighting-talk term of abuse to one of self-determination and pride. Trailblazing journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault remembers the battle she fought to get the New York Times to use “Black” rather than “negro”, while others describe festival power-couple Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach as being “unapologetically Black – they lived that phrase every day”.