It had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on January 28, 2021 and had a limited theatrical release in the United States on June 25, 2021, before expanding on July 2, 2021 theatrically by Searchlight Pictures and digitally via Hulu. It received acclaim from critics, with praise aimed at the footage restoration.
The footage alone would be worth recommending The Roots’ drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut. These recordings of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a weeks-long musical event that happened the same year as Woodstock, have been unavailable for public consumption until now, an example of a Black historical artifact being buried. The archival material is incredible, capturing unparalleled performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, The Staples Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, and so many more acts. Thompson frequently lets the music speak for itself, but also uses it as a guide through the place and the period, showing how Black artists were responding and evolving during the era. Summer of Soul is thoroughly joyous and also enormously vital.