Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson transported audiences to the late 1960s with a special screening of their new documentary, “Summer of Soul (… or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles on Friday night.
During its first two weeks in theaters, the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival musical film (billed as “a Jawn Questlove,” paying homage to the director’s roots in Philly) grossed over $ 1 million at box office plus it’s becoming a streaming sensation on Hulu.
“I’m really overwhelmed,” said Thompson Variety about all the buzz for the movie. “I’m used to doing really cool, underground, niche stuff that you’ll discover five years later – my fan base is world famous for saying, ‘I had no idea [that]’and that’s something I did five years ago. This is the first time that I have done something where the instantaneous reaction completely explodes. So I’m overwhelmed and humiliated, and now I’m really looking forward to making a Roots record to see if I can lightning it twice.
The project marks Thompson’s first time in the director’s chair and was crafted from 40 hours of performances by music legends including Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Sly and the Family Stone, and a dynamo duo between Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples. Thompson’s film contextualizes why the Harlem Cultural Festival was a major cultural moment, which took place in the weeks leading up to Woodstock, although it had not been announced for over 50 years.
But the early success of “Summer of Soul” is hardly a surprise, given that the film won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance earlier this year, before selling out at Disney’s Searchlight and Hulu for $ 12 million. The next step for the artist is a documentary on Sly and the family stone.
“I’m really checking my bucket list,” Thompson said. “I guess it’s my destiny to be a storyteller, and I love my new shoes that I’m wearing.”
Thompson posed on the event’s beige carpet (which had a retro-inspired shag texture) with the film’s producers Robert fyolvent and David Dinerstein, before swapping his director’s cap for headphones to DJ a live set. While the lucky Greek audience, including the “cultured” stars Yara Shahidi and Trevor Jackson, “Black-ish’s” Miles brown, “Greenleaf” and “The Flight Attendant’s” Merle Dandridge , Netflix London Hughes and Kacey Musgraves, was able to enjoy Questlove’s tunes and transitions in person, he simultaneously streamed the performance to Twitch’s Blackstream Live so fans back home could play their beat as well.
The ‘Summer of Soul’ night also served as a celebration for Hulu’s brand new Onyx collective, which focuses on creators of color. Led by Freeform President Tara Duncan, “Summer of Soul” is Onyx’s first project, representing a kind of soft launch for the brand, albeit having a big impact.
“We had a choice of when and how we were going to launch this brand, but we wanted to do it at the right time,” Duncan said. “We wanted to do it with material that we knew would reflect the diversity and joy of the Black experience. But something that also hasn’t shaved the edges and doesn’t reflect what’s really going on in the world. “
She continued, “For us to find such a happy and entertaining movie, and also a story that hasn’t really been told before, it really embodies everything we’re trying to sum up with the brand.”
After “Summer of Soul”, the Onyx collective will launch “The 1619 Project” (based on documents from New York Times Magazine and Nikole Hannah-Jones, produced by Oprah Winfrey and Lionsgate) and a new docuserie, “The Hair Tales”, by Tracee Ellis Ross and Michaela Angela Davis (produced by OWN and Hulu by Oprah Winfrey). Onyx has also signed a global deal with Natasha Rothwell of “Insecure” and will be home to all non-Marvel projects produced by Proximity du “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler.
“More than just a platform for artists of color, what the Onyx collective will really embody is the idea of the future of storytelling. And by giving creators the ability to tell the stories they want to tell, we’re actually going to move the medium forward. We’re about innovation, ”Duncan said. “I think what color designers are looking for is access and the ability to produce at a level that their imagination can take them, and that’s what this brand gives them the opportunity to do.”
The event was a bit of a Disney family affair, with a guest list comprised of ABC, Freeform, FX, and Hulu talent, including “Good Trouble” stars. Cola with sherry and Zuri adele, who shared their pride in seeing the brand develop.
“I still consider myself a grio, a storyteller. And that’s exactly what Onyx does – telling the true stories of each of us, the stories we don’t always learn in academia, ”Adele said. “That’s why we become artists. We discover the real story with our whole body, and this work lives on forever. The most powerful social policy tool on the planet is cinema, theater, television, digital media, and I am very honored to be a part of it.
The outdoor screening event was presented in partnership with Cinespia, with the park next to the Greek Theater outfitted to match the festival-style vibes of the 1960s. Before the film started, dancers dressed in costumes (and hairstyles) adapted to the time danced next to Questlove’s DJ booth, while guests hula hooped or enjoyed summer barbecue refreshments including hot corn, cotton candy and lemonade .
Thompson introduced the film with a 15-minute conversation with KCRW Carmel Novena, who is also the daughter of Sly Stone, revealing the behind-the-scenes secrets of how he put the film together and calling the project “Black Joy at Its Best”.
“Summer of Soul” is now in theaters and streaming on Hulu.