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An African-American woman on stage singing at the Summer Festival in Watts 1974

Film

Wattstax

R 18+

27 Dec - 11 Jan

Seven years after the Watts riots, the 1972 Summer Festival reinvigorated public consciousness around issues of race in a legendary day-long concert that celebrated the music, people and pride of the black community of Watts and greater Los Angeles. Staged by Memphis-based Stax Records, the event was a showcase for the label’s star power, such as the Staple Singers and a bold proclamation about African-American empowerment. 

No Longer Available
  • Tickets were sold for as little as $1 to encourage community members to come along. Reportedly over 100,000 Angelenos headed to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to hear the cream of the Stax crop including, Isaac Hayes, The Bar Kays and Rufus Thomas. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was the MC, and as PBS noted, “anyone who was there would never forget it. Jackson's hosting style revelled in a fine balance between get-down entertainment, raised-fist political rally, and stand-up spiritual revival.”

    The filmmakers wanted to expand on the standard concert film and went out into local barber shops, churches and on the street to interview citizens on the black American experience. Richard Pryor called Wattstax 'a soulful expression of the living word', his appearance, which is dispersed throughout the film, captures the legendary comedian at the brink of tipping into mainstream American culture. 

    Wattstax premiered at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for a Golden Globe the following year, however, the subject matter was considered radical and the film failed to receive a wide cinema release. For many years Wattstax fell into cult obscurity but in 2004 Sony Pictures restored the film for its 30th anniversary, making this astounding big-screen event available once more.