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FILM OF THE WEEK Black history banished

MARIA DUARTE recommends a fascinating documentary about a revolutionary black music festival that was deliberately ignored by the media

Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) 12A
Directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

IN THE summer of 1969, just 100 miles south of Woodstock, another epic and historic music event took place which celebrated black history, culture and fashion, but which no-one has ever heard of because it was never publicised or shown on television — deliberately.

Over six weeks The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park), but the footage has never been seen — until now, musician-turned-director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s powerful debut documentary finally righting the wrongful omission.

Part music film, part historic record, the film features never-before-seen concert performances by a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and the 5th Dimension to name but a few, interwoven with interviews with some of those legendary artists.

They, along with some of the attendees, outline the gig’s vital role at a time of social unrest and upheaval. Those who were children at the time describe the joy, the wonderment and the empowerment of seeing a black crowd as far as the eye could stretch for the first time in their lives. “We were black and we were proud,” says Mavis Staples from the Staple Singers while Gladys Knight asserts: “something important was happening. It wasn’t just about the music.”

The film shows how 1969 was the year of change and the beginning of the revolution, when African Americans began to be described as black instead of “negroes,” due in part to US civil rights activist and journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gaul, who explains how she convinced her editors at the New York Times to drop their use of the word in a victorious policy change.

It is a rousing, astounding and thought-provoking film which shows that after more than 50 years the fight for equality and against racism continues, as the barrage of abuse hurled at three England players this week, for missing penalties, sadly highlights.

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