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Questlove, legendary drummer of The Roots, took home the Oscar for his directorial role in the musical documentary, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), at the 94th annual Academy Awards.
The only problem? He accepted the award only minutes after the infamous Will Smith slap heard around the world.
Following the commercial break when Denzel Washington, Tyler Perry, and Samuel L. Jackson attempted to council and console an edgy Will Smith, Chris Rock then proceeded to present the Oscar.
Questlove said he was meditating in his seat during the incident and the commercial break that followed, noting, “So when I opened my eyes, I was like, ‘Why is everyone so quiet?’ I literally was not present for that whole entire moment.”
Questlove, whose real name is Ahmir Khalib Thompson, added that it didn’t dawn on him until the last minute what exactly had happened.
On Monday, Will Smith released a statement on Instagram that partially read, “Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally,” he wrote. “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
That violence Smith speaks of completely escaped the deeply meditative Questlove.
Summer of Soul is Black History we never knew
Watching Summer of Soul was so bittersweet. Obviously, it’s a masterful display of African and African American creative and musical talents but it represented so much more. The fact that it could be locked away for so long only causes the viewer to speculate what other legendary Black works of art remain in Hollywood cutting room floors or basements.
Summer of Soul was the medicine we didn’t even know we needed. From the epic line-up to the fashion, the hot Sun, Pip’s choreography, Nina Simone’s aura, and the people that came out to watch a free concert over six weeks created an unmatched vibe of Blackness in all its purest forms.
Furthermore, the film was a huge step in visually stamping Black peoples’ place in rock and roll history—it is, after all, a genre that would not exist without Black talent. The likes of Elvis, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, and The Doors have admitted as much.
“And the Oscar goes to… Questlove – Summer of Soul!“
As for what was going through Questlove’s mind as he sat next to his mother, Jacqui Andrews, the moment his name was called, he said, “We were the only two people. It was that moment that I realized, we went through so much from them sacrificing to put me into music school. It was either our bills or my future. I just thought about all those moments.”
Chris Rock, minutes after being humiliated on live television, recovered like a seasoned boxer and fit in a joke as Questlove and his producers rose from their seats. “Ahmir Thompson… and four white guys.”
“As I’m walking to the stage, I’m kind of putting two and two together, and I realize that that was a real moment maybe three seconds before I spoke words,” he shared. “But in my mind they’re just doing a sketch or whatever and I’m like, ‘OK, Ahmir, remember to thank your mom, dad,’ so I was not present at all.”
Questlove approached the stage, shook hands with Will Smith, and received his Oscar from Rock. He would emotionally grasp enough words to acknowledge that Summer of Soul is something he should’ve attended as a kid, had his parents known about it. Questlove reiterated that the film represents more than its 1969 entertainment value, but its deeper symbolism resonates in 2022.
In a country that attempts to eliminate authentic Black stories and experiences from curriculums near and far, Summer of Soul defiantly and effortlessly reminds us Black brilliance has always existed – whether we knew it or not.