Backstage Interview: DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Backstage Interview: DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

SPEECH BY: Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein


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          Q.    Everybody, congratulations.  Such a well-deserved win.  You got

                emotional in your speech, Quest, when you were talking about

                your family, but also, inside the room was a little

                controversial, little bit of a set up there. So what was the

                mood going into your acceptance speech today?

          A.    (Questlove) I am not talking about that.  Like, this is about

                the Harlem Cultural Festival.  We are very happy right now to

                accept this award on behalf of Hal Tolson and Tony Lawrence.

                This is the story of two gentlemen with a dream who wanted to

                heal a nation that was hurting with a concert festival.

                And we are very fortunate enough to be the bridge to carry this

                denied moment for the last 50 years to the end zone. And I

                couldn't be happier right now for two gentlemen with a dream

                and to see their dream come true.

          Q.    Hello.  Over here.  Congratulations to you --

          A.    (Questlove) Thank you.

          Q.    -- All of you. One thing about you, your love of music, it is

                abundant, and this documentary certainly showed that. How do

                you know -- and you can all answer, but how do you know when

                you need to stay on something as opposed to give up the ghost,

                when it's not going -- when it is not working?

          A.    (Questlove) You know, this film has seen, a lot of, I guess,

                iterations. Like, you know, first it started out as straight

                performance, but then something happened in the pandemic. One,

                you know, we had a lot of time on our hands in silence.

                And, you know, often, when parents or people come up to me in

                airports, like, "Can you give my kid some advice?" like, what

                advice do you want to give?

                And I used to always say, "Embrace boredom and silence."

                So, I mean, the fact that I personally spent a greater part of

                2020 in a farm where there was nothing but ducks and chickens

                to talk to me, I think that just put me in a different mind

                state.  And one of the mind states that I was in was just --

                it's not enough just to give you guys the music without the

                context of the music.

                And so a lot of the -- the -- what we call the super editing to

                the great -- from our great editor, Josh Pearson, was that we

                wanted to explain to people what was happening. And, not to

                mention, around April of 2020, things that were happening in

                1968, 1969 were starting to mirror 2020.

                And so the irony wasn't lost on us that we have a brand new

                film on our hands, and we went with it.

          Q.    Hi, guys. Over here. Quest, Philadelphia is proud of you. I

                want to say, a year ago, January 2021 when this film sold out

                of Sundance, you guys were the benefit -- or the beneficiary of

                a really sort of an interesting platform release between

                Searchlight and Hulu.

                        You've got your prestige theatrical rollout and,

                obviously, access to tens of thousands of subscribers, which I

                think gave SUMMER OF SOUL a lot of wind under its sails. In any

                other year, in a non-pandemic year, how do you think this movie

                would have rolled out, and do you have a preference of how

                these stories reach anybody?

          A.    (Questlove) You know, I haven't even thought of a revisionist

                version or an alternative timeline. I do know that time was the

                common -- the common factor of this entire journey, from the

                50-year lead-up to this finally getting the green light, to the

                fact that we started a lot of our work March 16th, 2020.

                And, you know, there were moments when I felt like, well, maybe

                we'll come back in the 55th anniversary or in the 60th

                anniversary, or this is ruined or whatever.

                But, for me, I have never once thought about, you know, if

                this were an alternative timeline, like, would this moment have

                happened? I think this was supposed to happen and -- yeah.  And

                I do think about the detriment of the lessons we had to learn

                in the last two years.

                But I, for one, spent my pandemic learning and growing as a

                human, as we all did, as creatives and as human beings.

          A.    (David Dinerstein) I just want to touch on that, too. I think

                we were supported by a great company, or companies, in respect

                to Searchlight and Onyx and Hulu that really thought on

                their feet. We were in the middle of a pandemic. Our Sundance

                film festival premiere was canceled.

                It ended up as a virtual premiere, and when it was ultimately

                acquired by those companies, they really thought outside of the

                box, and they said this is really important to put into the

                theaters, assuming we do have the ability to do it.

                And they did, and it was in 700-plus screens.  Two weeks later,

                it was on Hulu, and, you know, a few weeks ago, it aired on

                ABC. So it is really an amazing group of teams behind us who

                have been there since day one, and we couldn't have had better


          A.    (Robert Fyvolent) And I will just add, we actually intended

                this film to be viewed communally. Right?  It's an experiential

                film.  It was intentional to put the audience in the festival.

                And I think that whether that communal experience comes in the

                theater or at home or 15 kids surrounding a phone or Amir

                checking rough cuts on his iPhone, it just -- you know, I think

                that was the intention, and I think you see and feel that in

                the film.

          Q.    Stephanie Holland from The Root.

          A.    Hey.

          Q.    I was wondering if you could speak to how important a film like

                this that celebrates black history and culture is right now,

                while our culture is under attack.

          A.    (Questlove) You know, we've always maintained that even though

                most will see this as, you know, a black history film, we also

                need to start reframing that black history is American history

                and to let people know that, you know, we had a hand in

                building this place and -- thank you.

                And, you know, the thing -- the thing that I really want people

                to leave with -- because, you know, there's people that are

                going to be curious about this film and see it, and there's

                some teachable moments.

                The one teachable moment that I personally, I guess, would like

                to stress is that, you know, we're in a place right now where

                there's a lot of people that have power to greenlight projects,

                and, oftentimes, you know, as Americans, we're always in fight

                or flight mode.

                And nine times out of ten, when something gets greenlit, it

                is because it is monetarily, you know, to their advantage to do

                so, and they often pass on things that are outside the box, or,

                you know, that's not deemed a moneymaker.

                And I hope that this moment shows that stories like these do

                matter and that, you know, instead of us living in our comfort

                zone -- like, right now, we are in a time where people are

                always rebooting things and rebooting ideas and whatnot, that

                new ideas can come to fruition and new stories.

                And, you know, as I said at the podium, like, we're still

                living in those exact times in '69, where marginalized

                people -- I mean, be it the LGBTQIA community being asked to

                deny their existence, or the fact that, you know, critical race

                theory is now deemed a controversy in our schools, be it

                marginalized people, refugees from all over the world looking

                for a home and their dignity, people on the poverty line.

                So yeah.  Hopefully, this will be the paradigm shift and the

                turning point so that these stories can be elevated.

          Q.    Good evening.

          A.    (Questlove) It is like the voice of God.  How are you doing?

                The lights are so --

          Q.    Congratulations to all of you, gentlemen. My question is for

                Quest. SUMMER OF SOUL is such a magnificent documentary. Harlem

                has been my home for nearly 15 years. I would like to know how

                you came to cast Musa Jackson, who added such a beautiful

                texture to this amazing documentary.

          A.    (Questlove) I always maintain -- Musa Jackson's the first

                person whose face you see in the beginning, and I remember when

                he walked in the studio, I was like, there's no way that this

                guy remembers anything.  Like, he was in his mother's womb,

                trying to give us context.

                And I was borderline dismissive because, you know, it's like,

                he was 4 years old.  What is he going to remember?  What is he

                going to add to this film.

                And the thing is, is that, along with Marilyn McCoo and some

                others, like, Musa is the heart of film.  And the fact that

                that festival was his very first memory in life and that that

                stayed with him -- woah.  Something controversial just

                happened. What happened?

                Oh, I'm sorry. I heard mumbling like another situation just

                happened. No.  It's just -- I was running for cover.

                No. Moussea is -- it is so weird.  That moment was so genuine.

                That -- that moment was actually captured off camera, you know,

                where we were just casually talking to each other, and thank

                God we were rolling.

                But it goes to show you that even I -- you know, and this is

                our project.  Like, I was ready to just, throw the baby out

                with the bath water.  Like, okay, he is four years old, so he

                has nothing to say.  And see how easily dismissive that could

                have been?  And he is the heart of the film.

                So I'm very happy for Musa and for the entire community of

                Harlem to finally -- you know, the fact that they're seen now

                and they are in the canon. That is so important. Thank you.

          Q.    Hi, how are you?

          A.    Hi, how are you?

          Q.    I am doing well.  Congratulations on your big win. I noticed

                you mentioned there was a lot of parallels between the time

                when the SUMMER OF SOUL occurred and 2020, current day today.

                If you were to have a similar lineup, something lying that now

                that would kind of speak to the experiences that we are going

                through now, and, you know, just have artists that could, like,

                provide some healing the way they were trying to do at that

                time, what do you think would be a good lineup, and where would

                a concert like this take place?

          A.    (Questlove) So you are setting me up for a great alley oop dunk

                right now.  I could just say you can go right to The Roots

                picnic and see the two-day lineup.

                So when The Roots were living in London, there were a lot of

                lessons that we -- we moved to London because that was a city

                that really embraced musicianship at a time in 1993 in which

                that wasn't happening in the states.

                And, you know, we -- in 1993, all we knew was, like,

                Lollapalooza and maybe Farm Aid.  And when we went there and

                did all of these festivals, we were like, we have to take the

                festival back to the states.  We got to learn -- everything

                that we learned here in these four years of London, we got to

                bring back home.

                This is, I believe, our 13th or 14th year of doing The Roots

                picnic, so -- you know, and that's another thing. Oftentimes, I

                think artists feel like there has to be some heavy political

                agenda to be a role model or to be politically involved. But,

                you know, half the time, it's just being there for people, you


                And that, to me, is what festivals are about.  Like, festivals

                are healing.

          Q.    Thank you so much.

          A.    [Yes].

          Q.    West Philly, stand up all day, congratulations. And our city is

                going through a lot of things. What do you want to say to the

                young kids, especially in West Philly, that are dreaming, that

                are wanting to do something bigger than what they're seeing,

                what they are being told that they can do?

          A.    (Questlove) I think the lesson I learned in the last two years,

                and especially when you are young and black, is that

                oftentimes, you know, my -- my elders -- and I mean elders,

                like teachers and occasional uncles and people on the block --

                they never taught us how to dream. They never taught us how to


                Oh, my God. What am I missing right now? Of course he did. West

                Philly in the house!

                Anyway, we weren't taught to dream that much. We were taught to

                survive and hustle and survive. And, you know, I encourage any

                young person nowadays that the key to -- the key to life and

                thriving is dreaming. I -- trust me.  I encourage it heavily.

                Dreaming is everything.

                And -- yeah.  I used to think that dreams were silly.  I would

                watch Michael Jackson on Soul Train talk about, "Yeah. I like

                day dreaming" and all these things.  I used to laugh at those

                answers, but no.  For real, it's so important right now, and I

                can't stress it enough. Thank you.

          A.    (Robert Fyvolent) I am in a room full of journalists, so I have

                to say this because I would be remiss not to. Riz Ahmed,

                tonight, became the 9th South Asian ever to win an Academy

                Award.  I became the 10th. Tonight, two South Asians won an

                academy award.

                Also, this will please my mother:  I am the first Patel ever to

                win an Oscar.  So I'm very proud of that. But I think it is

                remarkable that two South Asians won an Oscar tonight, and I

                think that's a small, small, small, small sign of progress.

                Thank you.

          Q.    Thank you so much and congratulations.

Acceptance speech transcripts for the 94th Academy Awards are created by a team of transcribers in real time and with minimal editing, for the benefit of the press on the night. They may contain omissions and errors, especially in the spelling of names. Clips of winner acceptance speeches may be found on

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