Questlove’s documentary Summer of Soul (Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is climbing up the box office ranks. According to Deadline, the project will have earned a cumulative $1.4 million rising to an estimated $1.47 million Monday (July 12) with a $375,000 second-week gross. A previous report found the film made a three-day cumulative amount of $650,000 over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The combined earnings make the documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival the best-performing documentary of 2021 thus far.
Searchlight Pictures head of distribution Frank Rodriquez shared with Deadline the film “may possibly get to $2 million, that’s our goal.” He added, “It’s a crowded time, a crowded marketplace and we have to do the best we can to hold on to top theaters.”
Available to audiences in 752 theaters across North America, Summer of Soul is also available to viewers on the popular streaming platform Hulu. The film is directed by Questlove née Ahmir Khalib Thompson and produced by David Dinerstein, Robert Fryvolent, and Joseph Patel in association with Searchlight Pictures, Hulu, and Onyx.
According to the Hulu synopsis, the documentary chronicles the aforementioned festival, which has largely been forgotten until now. The festival was performed and film in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park) over six weeks in the summer of 1969.
The celebration empowered Black history, culture, and fashion. Summer of Soul includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension, and more.
The film initially premiered on January 28, 2021, at the Sundance Film Festival, and won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the US Documentary Competition. Deadline reported top-performing theater locations were screens in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York City, Portland, Ore., Boston, and Washington, D.C.
During a July interview with VIBE, Questlove opened up about the creation of the documentary and his personal goals with bringing the footage to light.
“Before 2020 I would say that maybe in America, 1969 is the most important year. I think in 2030 you’re going to see a lot of documentaries on 2020. It’s almost like 2020 might be the new important year and ‘69 might have to go to second place,” explained The Roots drummer. So the obvious answer is the paradigm shift of a new generation, a younger generation of the Civil Rights Movement, somewhat more insistent [and] less patient than before. Fist banging on the table, “We want it now!” Being Black is now a concept and a way of life in 1969, where it wasn’t that way before and it was not lost on me that we were living through this in real time 50 years later.”
The Philadelphia native also discussed how the film’s audience evolved, resonating with younger people and becoming more inclusive. “In the beginning I thought this was going to be a niche project, an art house film. And I thought people my parent’s age and grandparent’s age, they’ll gravitate towards it. And cats like you and I who grew up with those parents and know hip-hop samples and what not, we’ll latch onto it, but I dunno about Millennials and Gen-Z. It started in 2017 that way. But as we got to 2019 then I was like ‘This is how Millennials and Gen-Z will connect with it,’ because it mirrors exactly what was happening 50 years ago. For me, that’s what I want people to walk away from receiving this film.”
Watch the official teaser for Summer of Soul (Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) below: