TV viewers of a certain generation will enjoy the music and feelings in a couple of new shows streaming in the next few weeks, and people of all ages will appreciate two mini-series that depict the heritage and horror in our country’s past.
First, two documentaries – “Summer of Soul” (on Hulu) and “1971” (on Apple TV+) – feature the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, B.B. King Gil Scott-Heron and more. Streaming offers more opportunity, more variety and more, period, so documentaries are flourishing, and three of four recommended productions are documentaries, and the fourth dramatizes faces from an historical novel.
All four will spark a range of emotions: Joy and rage, tears and pride, doubt and confirmation.
* “Summer of Soul: Or … When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised,” the first directing effort by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, is a film from never-released footage from 1969’s Harlem Cultural Festival, recalled as “the Black Woodstock,” having happened the same summer. Held over six weeks, the series celebrated history and culture, and Questlove’s film has performances by Gladys Knight & the Pips, the 5th Dimension, Herbie Mann, the Chambers Brothers and more, plus recent observation by Chris Rock, Lin-Manuel Miranda and others. It won the August Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
* “1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything,” co-directed by Asif Kapadia, Danielle Peck and James Rogan, in eight episodes also features a mix of music (Marvin Gaye, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, War, Alice Cooper) and comments (including archival remarks from John Lennon and behind-the-scenes moments of Bob Dylan rehearsing with George Harrison) to focus on a fractured time.
“There was a huge divide in America because of Viet Nam,” says Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, who was a student at Kent State when soldiers shot student protestors, killing four. “Shocked! Yeah!”
* “Exterminate All the Brutes” (HBO Max), directed by Raoul Peck (who did the acclaimed “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on James Baldwin’s works), will stir different reflections, forcing viewers to bear witness to six centuries of hate and brutality based on colonialism and white supremacy, from the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition through the genocide of Native Americans after Columbus and the enslavement of Africans to the Holocaust and anti-immigrant sentiments still alive through neo-Nazis and other Right-wingers.
Stemming in part from Europe’s legacy of racism (against the Irish, Slavs, Jews and Roma (or the derogatory term Gypsies), the four-part series, which has villainous dramatizations by actor Josh Hartnett, can be overwhelming, but it should leave an indelible impression.
“You already know enough,” said the late historian Sven Lindquist. “What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.”
* Finally, “The Underground Railroad” (Amazon Prime), directed by Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), is a stirring narrative following people portrayed by Aaron Pierre and Thuso Mbedu escaping bondage from Georgia through South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. It’s emotional and difficult to watch, even as the actors seem to peer directly at us, as if to say, “See?”
Throughout, it’s hoped that glimpses of evil may help generate empathy and understanding.