*NOTE: This review is going to be a CAPSULE review, which means it’ll be a tight, quick critique of the film.
The Apollo Theater is one of the most infamous theaters in New York City if not the United States. A landmark for young, up-and-coming African Americans to show off their talent while also highlighting established, world renowned artists.
The Apollo is a documentary that looks at the importance and legacy of the Apollo Theater. The film picks up in the 1930’s where The Apollo would become the first theatre to allow black people to perform, at a time when African-Americans were forbidden from entering most theaters in the U.S. We watch The Apollo through the years and show how it was an important landmark not just for black talents, but as a sanctuary of safety and peace during times of racism and war as well as being a place where black people would go to express how they felt about the time world they are living in through song, music, dance, poetry, and comedy.
Director Roger Ross Williams gives us some truly incredible archival footage. Seeing artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday perform at The Apollo was something to behold. Watching James Brown sing “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and bring the house down gave me goosebumps. It was also amazing to see how important the theater’s legendary Amateur Night was. Showing us garbage men, surgeons, anyone with a dream get on that stage was inspiring. Williams cuts between this footage, along with interviews from past artists, people who work at the theater, and Harlem locals to give us an insightful look at the famed theater. Williams also shows us the current state of The Apollo, as they continue to work hard to highlight up-and-coming black artists while also being socially relevant.
The Apollo Theater is known for also allowing the audience to “boooo” talents that they do not like. But there will be no booing when watching The Apollo. This is a beautiful documentary about the importance of art in society and the greatness of The Apollo Theater. Without The Apollo, artists like Richard Pryor, The Temptations, and Lauryn Hill may never have existed. We are indebted to The Apollo for all it has done for black culture and society.
The Apollo is part of the DOCUMENTARY category at the 55th Chicago International Film Festival.
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