7/10 From Searchlight Pictures and Hulu, “Summer of Soul” (I won’t use the full official title from here on out due to length) is nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. A film I may not have normally sought out, its Oscar nomination lead me to watch it and in the end, I’m glad I did. The film has some problems with narrative and includes some racism against whites but overall is extremely well edited and directed with some terrific musical performances. During the summer of 1969, several cultural and historical events took place. We landed on the moon on July 20th and from August 15th to 18th, a little concert you may have heard of called Woodstock took place. These are well known events but what many (myself included before watching this) didn’t know is that the Harlem Cultural Festival took place on most Sunday afternoons from the end of June to the end of August, that same fateful summer during a divided time in America’s history. Legal segregation laws pushed by Democrats had come to an end several years prior, but the implementation took years in many places to fully take effect. Many racists weren’t happy with blacks being implemented into society and many cultural icons like MLK Jr., Malcolm X and two Kennedys were assassinated in the early 60s, which raised everyone’s tension and unease. In the midst of all the social tension and upheaval, the Harlem Cultural Festival was a place where black artists could perform to gigantic crowds, completely for free, which was largely unheard of. Despite being filmed, the footage laid dormant for 50 years before being unearthed and turned into this documentary. Some of the biggest names in music at the time performed and the festival went off largely smooth. Despite not being nominated for Best Editing, I strongly feel that this film should have been. Documentaries often get ignored when it comes to editing, which is a shame because when you come across hundreds of hours of footage that you didn’t shoot yourself and are tasked with editing it down into two hours, this monumental task takes years and is much more difficult than if you shot the footage yourself in modern day. The interviews with festival goers, musicians who performed, B roll footage of the crowd and the acts performing themselves are so well put together that it can’t help but anger you that the Academy failed to recognize this editing achievement. Questlove’s direction is strong and the pacing works well with musical acts from various artists coming along regularly to keep you entertained from start to finish. Despite learning new information, amazing editing and terrific musical numbers previously unseen, “Summer of Soul” has a few problems preventing it from reaching greatness. First off, interviewing notorious race baiter and overall terrible human being Al Sharpton, who never came across a racial situation he didn’t make worse and stoke hatred in the process is interviewed here. His presence alone feels gross and along with fellow racist Jesse Jackson, they are a stain on the film. Jesse Jackson was at least at the festival on stage so I understand speaking to him but Sharpton has no credibility to speak on anything and interviewing him was a foolish idea. There is also some racism against white people that the film almost tries to justify due to all of the white racism against black people at the time. Both are clearly wrong but trying to justify black racism against whites feels disgusting. They also stick in some revisionist history by trying to claim that the Republican New York Mayor John Lindsay was liberal because he cared about black and brown people, implying that normal, non-liberal Republicans do not. So some of the racial narratives the film pushes are gross and easily able to be seen through if you pay close attention. It is not surprising in today’s climate but disappointing nevertheless, since the film would have been perfectly fine without it. In the end, despite some racists being interviewed and narrative issues, this is a fascinating piece of history with some of the best black artists performing in their prime (it is kind of sad to see how black music went from jazz and the music seen here to what it is today with Cardi B, Lizzo, etc. being some of the biggest names in black music today). Worth checking out for the performances and terrific editing, “Summer of Soul” doesn’t reach greatness but is a good documentary if the subject matter interests you.

#BBKingBBQ / #LikeARollingSly&TheFamilyStone / #AGladysKnightToRemember / #AHerbieMannOfThePeople / #EverydayPeopleOfColor / #JuneMoonTunes

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