Questlove and Nelson George go searching for the funk

George Clinton and Nelson George/Photo Credits: Terrence Jennings/Ralph Terry
George Clinton and Nelson George/Photo Credits: Terrence Jennings/Ralph Terry

On the “A” w/Souleo: 

At this year’s 17th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival, presented by BET Networks, numerous attendees were seeking the funk. One of the event’s most anticipated films, Finding the Funk was screened and brought out stars including George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic, Nona Hendryx, Melvin Van Peebles and Questlove. With the project author, filmmaker and producer, Nelson George presents a documentary that explores the history and impact of funk from James Brown to some of hip-hop’s biggest stars.

Since its peak in the 1970s, funk bands have significantly decreased in mainstream visibility and commercial success. This has occurred despite funk music being frequently sampled by hip-hop artists such as Public Enemy, Shock G and Snoop Dogg. Through his film, George hopes to redirect attention from the debate as to whether or not funk music is dead, to the need for music education. “The problem is music education in the schools,” he says. “In funk there were twenty bands. We have lost that legacy of popular Black bands and that’s what the film argues—to bring it back and reintroduce that idea.”

Questlove believes that beyond music education there needs to be a greater understanding and appreciation of funk music and history. “Usually with Black culture we embrace something for seven years and then it’s like we never knew it. You can embrace newness but people should not dispose of what came beforehand.”

Funk aficionados will be pleased to hear that there is an authorized documentary in the works about one of the genre’s seminal figures, Betty Davis. George revealed that Davis is working with a production team to tell her story after virtually remaining out of the public eye for more than 30 years.

One of the reasons Davis remains a highly admired figure is her courage as a nonconformist who challenged the status quo. Also challenging the system are twin brothers and founders of V-Twinz Productions, Sai and Venk Varadan. Their film, An American in Hollywood debuted at the festival to a sold-out crowd. The movie’s topic of young filmmakers of color trying to find success in Hollywood resonates deeply with Sai and Venk who have faced obstacles due to being of Indian descent. “The reality is in Hollywood if you got brown skin, black hair and black eyes it is hard to be represented,” says Venk.

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