Questlove and Shaka King discuss the genesis of their new films

'I had no experience in this medium,' said Questlove

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Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Shaka King sat with The Atlantic staff writer Hannah Giorgis for the Sundance Film Festival 2021, to discuss their films, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) and Judas and the Black Messiah.

King, director of Judas and the Black Messiah, said he was presented the film by Keith and Kenneth Lucas. He said he knew he wanted to be a part of it immediately and “was obsessed with seeing it through.”

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“I knew who Fred Hampton was. I didn’t know who William O’Neal was and when they told me, I said, ‘That’s fascinating,” King said.

The film, which is set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Feb. 12, centers around FBI informant William O’Neal’s (Lakeith Stanfield) betrayal of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party.

21-year-old Hampton was killed in a raid by Chicago police on Dec. 3, 1969, after O’Neal, who served as Hampton’s security, gave the FBI the details of his whereabouts.

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Questlove, legendary musician and music scholar made his directorial debut with Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).

Approached about the film by producers David Dinerstein and Robert Fyvolent in 2017, Questlove called their pitch “preposterous” as he publicly prides himself as the “all-knowing, kind of sage of everything music.”

“At that point it was kind of like, ‘Why are you coming to me?'” Questlove said. “I had no experience in this medium and wouldn’t you want a real director to do this? That’s how I felt. This is a historical first. Why would you guys trust me behind the wheel of this 18-wheeler where I just got my permit like last week.”

The film, which premieres Thursday night, unearthed unseen footage of the untold 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival or “Black Woodstock” that consisted of free concerts over the span of six weekends that brought more than 300,000 people to Harlem’s Mount Morris Park, according to USA Today.

The list of iconic Black musical artists including Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight, and The Fifth Dimension.

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