First-time director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson took home the Oscar for best documentary feature Sunday night for Summer of Soul, a breathtaking revival of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
In Summer of Soul, the renowned DJ, Roots drummer, producer, and bandleader intentionally recounts Black history using music as a foundation for musicians to share heartfelt stories.
— Summer of Soul (@summerofsoul) March 28, 2022
During an emotional speech, Thompson expressed his gratitude to his parents, and even got choked up as he referenced his father, musician Lee Andrews who died in 2016. He also declared that his directorial debut of this pivotal moment had less to do about him and more to do with the crucial political and social issues facing Black people in 1969 and beyond.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the marginalized people in Harlem that need to heal from their pain,” Thompson said during his emotional speech. “Just know that in 2022, this is not just a story about 1969 marginalized people in Harlem.”
For the West Philly native, the Oscar win was a shock to him. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Thompson was initially reluctant to take on the film. For his directorial debut — a job he was unfamiliar with at the time — he was responsible for the special task of retelling an almost erased part of Black history. The festival attracted large crowds and talented acts, yet still managed to go under the pop culture radar.
“Now, we’re just having that conversation about Black joy. It’s an important part of our story. It’s not just the bloodshed and the pain we’ve had to endure,” Thompson told the outlet. “There’s also a joy factor that we have to include in the narrative, that makes us human. Hopefully, this film will do that.”
The Oscar-winning director beat out fellow nominees including Emmy-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s Attica, a film that recounts the 1971 uprising at Attica Correctional Facility, and award-winning directors Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas’ Writing With Fire, a film about women journalists of India’s all-female Khabar Lahariya (“News Wave”).