125th St.—Harlem in New York City— The Apollo Theater stood as a haven for African-American culture to thrive and resist racists ideology that seeped through twentieth-century America. HBO presents a documentary directed by Roger Ross Williams, in a framework that is brutally honest about the racial injustice that persists in today’s news cycles. The documentary is told mostly in chronological order, highlighting key performances from the Jazz and Big Band eras up until 90’s Rap groups and the present-day theater. The documentary begins with the creation of a play “Between the World and Me”, which speaks to the struggles of growing up African American, often being targeted by law enforcement. The award-winning book was written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and developed and directed into a play by Kamilah Forbes. Williams branded this work as a fitting “hook” to the central message of the film. Coates grew his inspiration from the controversial police-killing of his Howard University classmate, Prince Jones Jr., in the 2000s.
The footage in this documentary is astounding, especially the performances of musical legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong. The performers who graced the 106-year-old theater are endless, including James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Snoop Dog, Lauryn Hill, The Temptations, Billie Holiday, Public Enemy, Richard Pryor-Sammy Davis Jr, and Barrack Obama. The theater signifies the beauty in the struggle of the African American community, a culture of black excellence that left an everlasting mark on American history, more appropriately, America’s soul. Most enjoyable is the footage of the theater’s weekly “Amateur Night”, in which many prominent musicians made their first appearances and performances. “Amateur Night” is notorious for the New York crowd to express their dissatisfaction with a roar of boos. “The Appollo” is currently streaming on HBO. It is crucially informative to an African American history that is musically etched into everlasting brilliance and glory. The people who are mentioned within this documentary should be celebrated and appreciated for the societal barriers they challenged despite all the prejudice that attempted to overshadow them.
The HBO documentary THE APOLLO, helmed by Oscar®- and Emmy®-winning director Roger Ross Williams, chronicles the unique history and contemporary legacy of New York City’s landmark Apollo Theater. The film weaves together archival clips of music, comedy and dance performances; behind-the-scenes verité footage of the team that makes the theater run; and interviews with such artists as Jamie Foxx, Angela Bassett, Pharrell Williams, Common, Patti LaBelle, and Smokey Robinson. While uncovering the rich history of the internationally renowned theater that has influenced American music and culture for 85 years, Williams also examines the current state of race in America, following a new multi-media adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ best-selling book “Between the World and Me” as it comes together on the theater’s grand stage.