Long-Forgotten Footage Sparks Dialogue on Black Music as History
Two members of the creative team behind the award-winning documentary “Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” shared personal reflections about their role in bringing long-forgotten footage of 1969’s Harlem Cultural Festival to light during a Feb. 28 online dialogue with a UCLA audience. Joseph Patel, one of the film’s producers, and art director consultant Frank William Miller Jr. said they were floored when they first learned about the festival, which brought legends of musical history to a Harlem park half a century ago. Over six weekends, a series of free events showcased B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson alongside Mavis Staples, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The 5th Dimension and a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder, among many others. That so few remembered this cultural phenomenon was a sign of Black erasure, Patel said. He said the film’s director, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, spoke about how “Black history is often not regarded as part of the American history and why that was important to rectify with this film. … We didn’t want to just do a concert film, we wanted to tell a larger story.” Assistant Professor Lee Ann S. Wang and doctoral student Taylor Reed of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare moderated the conversation, which was also sponsored by the School’s urban planning, public policy and undergraduate programs, the Diversity, Disparities and Difference (D3) Initiative, and Social Welfare’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee. “Summer of Soul” has won several awards since its premier at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and is nominated for this year’s Academy Award for best documentary feature.
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