Director: Mel Stuart

Institute History

  • 2003 Sundance Film Festival


"All of us have something to say, but some are never heard," Richard Pryor says at the start of Wattstax. This film gives the black citizens of Watts that unique opportunity.

Wattstax commemorates the six-hour, 1972 concert in the Los Angeles Coliseum when 100,000 people came together "in a soulful expression of the black experience." Dubbed the black Woodstock, the concert was staged as a benefit by Stax Records seven years after the Watts riots.

But more than simply a concert film, Wattstax is a vibrant portrait of a black community in transition. Candid comments by Watts residents and pithy, often-irreverent observations by Pryor on the dilemma of being black in America are counterpointed against actual concert footage, where the performances are chosen and organized so they reflect aspects of black urban life: gospel and storefront churches, the blues and male/female relationships.

High points include "Respect Yourself" and "We the Prople" by the harmonious Staple Singers, the Emotions in a roof-raising rendition of "Peace Be Still" at a neighborhood church, and Rufus Thomas rocking to "The Funky Chicken" in shocking pink hot pants.

This film restoration features a completely remastered audio track and careful repair of damaged film footage. Most importantly, the new Wattstax restores the film's original ending: the concert's triumphant conclusion when soulman Isaac Hayes sings "Shaft" and "Soulsville" to a mesmerized audience. These scenes had to be cut from the film because of a rerecording rights dispute.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

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