Skip navigation

The Apollo is a documentary about the history of the legendary Apollo Theatre, but it is also a poignant celebration of Black art. Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams film shows archival footage of some of the many names that once graced the stagefrom Duke Ellington and Stevie Wonder to LL Cool J, Chris Rock, and Dave Chappellewhile pondering the theaters future.

The Apollo

RELEASE DATE: 11/06/2019
DIRECTOR: Roger Ross Williams
Roger Ross Williams retells the star-studded history of the legendary Apollo Theater while celebrating decades of Black art.

Throughout the film, music historians and Apollo employees and regulars discuss what the coming years hold for the venue. Williams explores two possibilities: The theater can serve as a historical monument or a place to celebrate current Black art. The Apollo points to the latter, following the preparations for a production of Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me, a poignant father-to-son telling of the realities of being Black in America.

Williams has built a vibrant tribute to the Apollo. The archival footage alone makes the documentary worth the watch, featuring clips of protest music such as Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit, James Browns rendition of Say It Loud, Im Black and Im Proud, and Barack Obama singing Al Green. Paired with firsthand memories of those who were there and commentary from music historians, as well as present-day hopefuls, its easy to view the Apollo Theater as a living, growing organism. The cinematography is graceful; the footage, photographs, and documentssuch as notes about each entertainers performancespan more than 50 years, but the transitions never feel visually jarring.


The most interesting event in the Apollos history is the weekly Amateur Night, an attraction that still exists today. In its heyday, it served as a proving ground for emerging artists because of its notoriously tough audience. A 13-year-old Lauryn Hill is seen being booed, Chappelle explains that Amateur Night audiences prepared him to face harsh criticism, and jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald talks about her first time singing in a bid to please the vicious crowd.

Sometimes The Apollos strengths are also its weaknesses. The amount of archival footage alone is staggering, and watching the performances change over the years is engaging. The performers that have taken the Apollo stage since 1932 can and have been the subject of countless documentaries. Theres a lot of history fit into The Apollos runtime, and it can start to feel like a blur.


With The Apollo, its clear that Williams aspired for more than a simple retelling of the Apollo Theaters history. As the documentary ends with a segment from the theaters production of Between the World and Me, its easy to see The Apollo for what it really is: a fond tribute to a venue that gave many their start when no one else would, and a triumphant celebration of Black art across genres and decades.

Still not sure what to watch on HBO? Here are thebest movies on HBO, thebest HBO documentaries, andwhats new on HBO Gothis month.

Read more:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.