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How ‘Summer of Soul’ Was Shattered by “The Slap”

Will Smith killed any momentum ‘Summer of Soul’ might have picked up from its Oscar win.

summer of soul movie clips
Credit: SearchlightPictures/YouTube

Questlove’s Oscar for Summer of Soul was set to become a gigantic moment in African American cultural history. But then Will Smith slapped Chris Rock seconds before the award was presented. And that was the end of that, as they say.

Summer of Soul documents a series of concerts in Harlem in 1969. These shows are sometimes referred to as the “Black Woodstock.” The most essential names in soul music sang their hearts out that summer.

Artists like Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly, and the Family Stone, The Staple Singers, and Gladys Knight and the Pips delivered some of the most outstanding performances of the 1960s during the summer of soul.

Powerful. Intense. Funky. Electrifying. The music displayed in Mount Morris Park, Harlem, was all these things and more. But once it was over, the Harlem Cultural Festival – the official name of the concert series – disappeared from history.

Summer of Soul set out to change all that – and failed. A moment of madness from Will Smith completely overshadowed the film’s win for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.

Recently, Smith apologized to Questlove for ruining his special moment. But it was too late. The damage was done.

But What If “The Slap” Never Happened?

Now, let’s imagine for a second, there was no slap. In this new timeline, Questlove delivers an incredible acceptance speech. Following the Oscars, Summer of Soul is all everyone is talking about.

The movie’s newfound momentum is channeled into the Black Lives Matters movement. African American culture is now being celebrated all throughout the US and the world.

Credit: a katz/Shutterstock

Questlove is even invited to the White House. President Biden congratulates the director in a ceremony watched by millions for highlighting a lost part of black history.

Then there’s the music itself. Not since O Brother, Where Art Thou has a movie soundtrack made such an impact. Hundreds of videos featuring songs from the film go viral on TikTok.

This inspires a whole generation of young musicians to start making soul-influenced music. A new genre is born. It bounces with rhythm while delivering social commentary on the African American community’s issues. Again, pop music, like in the 60s, has a social message.

The film industry also begins to feel the SoS-effect. Black filmmakers delve deeper into the forgotten areas of African American heritage. Even more undiscovered episodes of magic are found and put on film. More Oscars are won. Black pride surges and eventually leads to a more equal society.

A Lost Opportunity

This is just wishful thinking, you might say. The point is that we’ll never know what could have been. And that is the tragedy of “The Slap.”

The irony is that Will Smith is himself one of the most celebrated African American artists of his generation. Later in the ceremony, Smith was handed the Oscar for Best Actor. This moment was also entirely spoiled by the actor’s own actions. Overall, it was a massive missed opportunity. What a shame.

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