Where is America? How do we celebrate those places central to our understanding of ourselves, our communities, our country? For the 12 million immigrants who came to the United States through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954, the Statue of Liberty remains a beacon of hope – a portal to innovating opportunity and finding a place in their new home. Since 1990, this place has served as “the country’s primary museum devoted entirely to immigration.”
Less than ten miles uptown from Ellis Island is the Apollo Theater in Harlem, a different kind of beacon of hope forged by a radically different kind of “new arrival” history. For perspective, recall that this August 18, 2019 is the 501st anniversary of King Charles V of Spain authorizing the slave trade from Africa to the New World. This summer of 2019 also marks the 400th anniversary of African-American history, recognizing that the founding of a representative democracy in Jamestown, Virginia on July 30, 1619 also marks the first enslaved Africans already at the English colony’s founding.
The Apollo is a powerful new documentary celebrating how Harlem’s 125th Street Apollo Theater turned “a people into a community” despite the unending counter-current of race, discrimination, and inequality. The first part of the film relies on new archival footage to tell the enduring story of how the Apollo became the creative center of black culture in the 1930s. The emotional key then shifts to nail why and how the Apollo Theater’s mission is to continue as an inspiring wellspring honoring everything that has come before, is emerging today, and is yet to come. The film’s ambition is to shout out this place-based American story about creative resilience and hope. The Apollo will be released this fall 2019 on HBO in a clear effort to spread the word about this important history and its legacy. As a magnet black community center, the Apollo continues to inspire contemporary work like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Artist-in Residence Program, and others.
America may think of itself as a nation of immigrants, but slaves were not immigrants. The Apollo by Roger Ross Williams is a riveting new documentary on the celebratory power of place. It shows how the Apollo Theater gathered up its people to share music in a different kind of history whose echo must never die. So: Where is America? Definitely at the 125th Street Apollo. Let’s make sure this story is heard. @ApolloTheater #ApolloDocumentary @RogerRossWill
By Nancy Austin, PhD – newportFILM Outdoors Summer 2019 Humanities Blogger.
With support from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.