Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson went from spinning records at last year’s Oscars to winning his own statuette tonight, for directing the Best Documentary Feature champion Summer of Soul (…or, when the revolution couldn’t be televised).
The famous DJ, music historian and founding member of the Roots – The show tonight‘s house band – accepted the award along with producers Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein. He began his speech by acknowledging the other nominees for Best Documentary Feature – Ascent, Penthouse, To run awayand write with fire — then became emotional while referencing the subject of his film: the long-ignored 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a concert series featuring some of the greatest African-American musical talent ever assembled on stage. The concerts were filmed at the time, with the intention of wrapping them into a special, but at the time the white-run TV stations collectively shrugged and moved on.
“It’s not lost on me that the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival should have been something that my mother-in-law, my father, should have taken me to when I was five, and…that’s such a mind-blowing moment for me right now,” Questlove said while choking. “But it’s not about me. It’s about marginalized people in Harlem who needed to heal from pain and just know that in 2022, you know, it’s not just a story of 1969 on marginalized people in Harlem.
Questlove then paused, before adding, “I’m just overwhelmed right now. I’m going to pull myself together and thank everyone as soon as I get off stage.
Producer Fyvolent secured the rights to the original concert material, very little of which had been seen in decades. The film became Questlove’s first film, as it added a documentary filmmaker with credits ranging from writer to Grammy winner. One of the team’s first tasks was to digitize the stock footage, a painstaking effort that gave Questlove time to soak up the footage.
“I had five months while they were processing the videotapes because it took a long time to cook and restore them,” Questlove previously told Deadline. , while I was eating my food, in my office, in my studio, in my bathroom. It’s all I’ve watched for five months straight… It’s almost like I’m living with it like it’s an art installation.
(Chris Rock introduced the category, beginning his remarks with a few jokes, including one at the expense of Jada Pinkett Smith. Pinkett Smith’s husband, Best Actor nominee Will Smith, then took the stage and slapped a seemingly offended Rock. by joke.composed to continue advertising the category).
Questlove becomes one of the few African-American directors to win an Oscar. All the victories have come in the documentary field. The most recent was Ezra Edelman, who won Best Documentary Feature in 2017 for JO: made in America. TJ Martin won in this category in 2012 for Unbeaten. Roger Ross Williams has become the first African-American filmmaker to win a directing role for his short documentary Prudence Musicin 2010.
soul summer was distributed by Disney’s Onyx Collective, Hulu and Searchlight Pictures. It won the top prize for American documentary at the Sundance Film Festival last year. Over the past year, Questlove’s vision of the film has evolved.
“I had time to reflect on what this film really is. This movie is about black joy,” he previously told Deadline. “Our pain is well documented, our struggle is well documented. And we often think that the antidote to the pain, the suffering of our history in America is comedy, or that sort of thing. But that still doesn’t reflect joy and… to me it was really really a case of pure pure joy [for the concert audience]. They’re people just in their natural happy element… It was just the break people needed in the summer of 1969 in the Harlem neighborhood.