Film Comment Recommends: Summer of Soul
This article appeared in the July 1 edition of The Film Comment Letter, our free weekly newsletter featuring original film criticism and writing. Sign up for the Letter here.
Summer of Soul (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, 2021)
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s archival concert film—compiled from footage shot in 1969 during the Harlem Cultural Festival and then forgotten for decades—has a staggering lineup: a young Stevie Wonder on drums; Nina Simone in a barn-burning rendition of “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black”; Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples in duet, paying tribute to the recently assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. But just as thrilling as these acts are the shots of the (largely Black) crowds gathered in Mount Morris Park, decked out in bright ’60s fashions and receiving the music with infectious rapture. The pleasure of this film is in watching this symphony of performance and reception, a call-and-response that thrums with all the heartbreak, rage, and hope of the ’60s.