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Wattstax (1973)

Documentary covering a Stax Records-sponsored all-day concert at the 1972 Watts Summer Festival with performances by Stax Records artists such as Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, The Staples Singers, and more.


Mel Stuart

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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
The Dramatics The Dramatics ... Themselves
The Staple Singers The Staple Singers ... Themselves
Kim Weston Kim Weston ... Herself
Jimmy Jones Jimmy Jones ... Himself
Rance Allen Rance Allen ... Himself
The Emotions The Emotions ... Themselves
William Bell William Bell ... Himself
Louise McCord Louise McCord ... Herself
Debra Manning Debra Manning ... Herself
Eric Mercury Eric Mercury ... Himself
Freddy Robinson Freddy Robinson ... Himself
Lee Sain Lee Sain ... Himself
Ernie Hines Ernie Hines ... Himself
Sonny Warner Sonny Warner ... Himself (as Little Sonny Warner)
The Newcomers The Newcomers ... Themselves


Documentary with a selection from a non-stop 7-hour musical event at Watts, the Los Angeles Coliseum, August 20, 1972. It's a sort of Woodstock event but with black artists, namely the groups Dramatics, Staple Singers, Rance Allen Group, Emotions, Bar Kays, Mel & Tim. Written by Artemis-9

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A soulful expression of the living word... See more »


R | See all certifications »


Official Sites:

PBS [United States]





Release Date:

16 September 1973 (Denmark) See more »

Also Known As:

Sort på hvidt See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


A portion of the proceeds went to Martin Luther King Hospital and the American Sickle Cell foundation as well as a few other predominantly African-American charities. See more »

Alternate Versions

The 2003 restoration includes the original ending; Isaac Hayes performing the songs "Theme from Shaft" and "Soulsville", which were removed from the film following the 1973 Los Angeles premiere due to the threat of a lawsuit over the use of those songs in a motion picture. The replacement ending, Isaac Hayes performing "Rolling Down a Mountain" (recorded on a Los Angeles soundstage months after the concert) has been removed. See more »


Edited into Richard Pryor: I Ain't Dead Yet, #*%$#@!! (2003) See more »


Written by Bonnie Rice, Eddie Floyd and Rufus Thomas
Performed by Rufus Thomas
See more »

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User Reviews

Snapshot of Early 1970's Soul
18 October 2000 | by hillariSee all my reviews

This is not just a concert film; it's a documentary about African-American life in Los Angeles in the early 1970's. The concert is to commemorate the Watts riots of 1965, and some of the positive changes that took place in the area. Although there is a lot of humor to be found in some of the comments that the residents make about changes in their area, it's sad to realize that the lingering problems of racism and unequal opportunities still exist to this day. However, there's a lot of joy and hope expressed throughout the film. This is one of Richard Pryor's earliest appearances on film, and he is pure genius. Ted Lange ("The Love Boat") and Raymond Lewis (Woodrow on "Sanford and Son), are some of the Watts residents who give their thoughts about the political changes. Thespian couple Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee can be glimpsed in the stands during a quick shot.

All of the musical performances are solid. The movie opens with The Dramatics' "What You See Is What You Get" which serves as a commentary on Watts itself. Some of the musical acts perform away from the concert area. The Emotions do a heartfelt rendition of the gospel song, "Peace Be Still", in a local church and blues great Little Milton does a classic, "Walking The Back Streets Crying" while sitting near a railway. The late, great Johnny Taylor sings "Jody Got Your Girl and Gone" to a nightclub audience populated by players and hustlers in full regalia. Back on the concert stage, Rufus Thomas appears in an outrageous outfit and mixes comedy along with his music. The Staple Singers, The Barkays, Carla Thomas, Kim Weston, Albert King, Rance Allen please the audience. Issac Hayes caps the night off when he struts in to the "Theme From Shaft" and The Rev. Jessie Jackson gives him a king's welcome.

I saw this film during the Chicago International Film Festival this year, and afterwards, the director, Mel Stuart, explained that legal entanglements continue to keep this film from being released on video. That's a shame, because this film is an excellent time capsule of a piece of 1970's culture.

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