Summer of Soul
(...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAhmir "Questlove" Thompson
Produced by
  • David Dinerstein
  • Robert Fyvolent
  • Joseph Patel
CinematographyShawn Peters
Edited byJoshua L. Pearson
Distributed by
Release dates
  • January 28, 2021 (2021-01-28) (Sundance)
  • June 25, 2021 (2021-06-25) (United States)
Running time
117 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3.7 million[1][2]

Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is a 2021 American documentary film directed by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.[3] It had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on January 28, 2021 and received a limited theatrical release in the United States on June 25, 2021, before expanding on July 2, 2021 theatrically by Searchlight Pictures and digitally via Hulu. It received acclaim from critics, with praise aimed at the footage restoration.


The documentary examines the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which was held at Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park) in Harlem and lasted for six weeks. Despite having a large attendance and performers such as Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Blinky Williams, Sly and the Family Stone and the Chambers Brothers, the festival was seen as obscure in pop culture, something that the documentarians investigate.


Clapperboard from original videotape recordings of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival
Clapperboard from original videotape recordings of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival

At the request of festival organiser and host Tony Lawrence, television producer Hal Tulchin recorded about forty hours of footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival on videotape,[4] excerpts from which were originally broadcast on two one-hour TV specials in July and September 1969 by CBS and ABC.[5] The tapes were later placed in a basement,[6] where they are said to have sat for about 50 years unpublished.[7] For several years, Tulchin attempted to interest broadcasters in the recordings with little success, though some of the footage of Nina Simone was eventually used in documentaries about the singer.[8]

In 2004, Joe Lauro, a film archivist of Historic Films Archive, discovered the existence of the footage and contacted Hal Tulchin. He digitized and cataloged the footage,[9] in the hope of working on a film about the event. In 2006, Lauro entered a deal with Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville to tell the story of the festival,[4] but the deal never saw the light of day, due to Tulchin, who died in 2017, changing his requests and later refusing access to the footage.[9] Producer Robert Fyvolent eventually acquired film and television rights to the footage from its original producer.[10] Director Ahmir Thompson expressed surprise that the footage sat for so long,[11] as music had a large impact on his life and development, stating "What would have happened if this was allowed a seat at the table? How much of a difference would that have made in my life? That was the moment that extinguished any doubt I had that I could do this."[12]


Summer of Soul premiered on January 28, 2021 at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the US Documentary Competition.[13] The film was acquired by Searchlight Pictures and Hulu. It was released in the United States at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles and the AMC Magic Johnson Harlem 9 multiplex in New York City on June 25, 2021 before expanding nationwide a week later while also being released on Hulu,[14] with the film also set to be distributed internationally in theaters and through Disney+ Hotstar on July 30, 2021, and Disney+ under the Star content hub and Star+ on November 19 2021.[15][16]

On April 22, 2021, it was announced that Questlove would introduce the first trailer for the film during the 93rd Academy Awards, for which he served as music director. The trailer debuted on April 25, 2021.[17]


Box office

In the film's wide opening weekend it grossed $650,000 from 752 theaters, a per-venue average of $865.[18]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 99% based on 206 reviews, with an average rating of 9.1/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Deftly interweaving incredible live footage with a series of revealing interviews, Summer of Soul captures the spirit and context of a watershed moment while tying it firmly to the present."[19] According to Metacritic, which assigned a weighted average score of 96 out of 100 based on 38 critics, the film received "universal acclaim".[20] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare "A+" average grade.[18]

Rolling Stone praised the film as "the Perfect Movie to Kick Off Sundance 2021" and that it was "an incredible, vital act of restoration — and reclamation".[21] The Guardian gave Summer of Soul five stars, stating that there was "a moment so striking and rich with power at the center of Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson's Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) that, while watching it, I actually forgot to breathe."[22]

British critic Mark Kermode called the film "the best music documentary I've ever seen" in his review for Kermode and Mayo's Film Review on BBC Radio 5 Live.[23]

Awards and nominations

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Sundance Film Festival February 3, 2021 Grand Jury Prize – Documentary Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Won [7]
Audience Awards – Documentary Won
Critics' Choice Documentary Awards November 14, 2021 Best Documentary Feature Won [24]
Best Archival Documentary Won
Best Music Documentary Won
Best First Documentary Feature Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson Won
Best Director Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson (tied with Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin for The Rescue) Won
Best Editing Joshua L. Pearson Won
Gotham Independent Film Awards November 29, 2021 Best Documentary Feature Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Nominated [25]
National Board of Review December 3, 2021 Documentary Film Won [26]
Detroit Film Critics Society December 6, 2021 Best Documentary Won (Tied with "Flee") [27]
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards December 6, 2021 Best Documentary Won [28]
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards December 12, 2021 Best Documentary Won [29][30]
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards December 15, 2021 Best Documentary Won [31]
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards December 18, 2021 Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film Won [32]
Best Editing Joshua L. Pearson Won
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association December 20, 2021 Best Documentary Film Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Won [33]
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards December 21, 2021 Best Documentary Film Won [34]
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Awards January 2022 Best Documentary Pending [35]
San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle January 10, 2022 Best Documentary Feature Won [36]
San Diego Film Critics Society January 10, 2021 Best Documentary Won [37]
Best Editing Joshua L. Pearson Nominated
Austin Film Critics Association January 11, 2022 Best Documentary Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Won [38]
Cinema Eye Honors 2022 Outstanding Non-Fiction Feature Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent, and David Dinerstein Pending [39]
Outstanding Direction Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson Pending
Outstanding Debut Pending
Audience Choice Prize Pending
Outstanding Editing Joshua L. Pearson Pending
Outstanding Sound Design Jimmy Douglass and Paul Hsu Pending
Toronto Film Critics Association January 16, 2022 Best Documentary Film Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Won [40]
Seattle Film Critics Society January 17, 2022 Best Documentary Feature Won [41]
Houston Film Critics Society Awards January 19, 2022 Best Documentary Feature Won [42]
Online Film Critics Society Awards January 24, 2022 Best Documentary Pending [43]
Grammy Awards January 31, 2022 Best Music Film Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson (video director); David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent and Joseph Patel, (video producers) Pending [44]
London Film Critics Circle Awards February 6, 2022 Documentary of the Year Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Pending [45]
Black Reel Awards February 27, 2022 Outstanding Documentary Feature Pending [46]
Outstanding Emerging Director Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson Pending
Independent Spirit Awards March 6, 2022 Best Documentary Feature Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Pending [47]
Satellite Awards March 18, 2022 Best Documentary Film Pending [48]
Producers Guild of America Awards March 19, 2022 Outstanding Producer of Documentary Motion Pictures Pending [49]


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Further reading