Mr. Soul! (2018)
Before Oprah, before Arsenio, there was Mr. SOUL. On the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, one fearless black pioneer reconceived a Harlem Renaissance for a new era, ushering giants and rising stars of black American culture onto the national television stage. He was hip. He was smart. He was innovative, political, and gay. In his personal fight for social equality, the man ensured the Revolution would be televised. He was Ellis Haizlip. The Revolution was SOUL.
The film celebrates the groundbreaking PBS series from its genesis to its eventual loss of funding against the backdrop of a swiftly changing political and social landscape, while profiling Ellis Haizlip, the charismatic man behind one of the most culturally significant and successful television shows in U.S. history.
- From 1968-1973, America got SOUL! television's first all-black entertainment/variety show. The film celebrates the groundbreaking PBS series from its genesis to its eventual loss of funding against the backdrop of a swiftly changing political and social landscape, while profiling Ellis Haizlip, the charismatic man behind one of the most culturally significant and successful television shows in U.S. history.
Ellis Haizlip was the producer and host of SOUL!, the first black arts television showcase of its kind. Conceived in 1968 as the first "black Tonight Show," SOUL! launched as a local, New York broadcast. By 1973, Haizlip had produced over 130 Emmy Award-winning, nationally-broadcast shows for WNET/PBS featuring a staggering array of A-list guests: Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Earth, Wind & Fire, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni and Muhammad Ali. Even a 16 year-old Arsenio Hall made his television debut performing magic tricks.
Part nightclub, part salon, SOUL! offered classic live performances by up-and-coming soul, jazz, and world musicians, juxtaposed with in-depth interviews featuring actors, literary figures, prominent politicians and intellectuals. Haizlip championed early acts such as Ashford and Simpson, Roberta Flack, Al Green, Billy Taylor, Bill Withers and Patti LaBelle, pairing them alongside Toni Morrison, Muhammad Ali, Cicely Tyson, The Last Poets, Amiri Baraka, Jesse Jackson, Merry Clayton and more.
Produced by Melissa Haizlip and Sam Pollard, the film offers a behind-the-scenes look at this revolutionary program, from its initial conception to its final broadcast, including the very public battle to keep it on the air despite a shifting political landscape. Directed by Melissa Haizlip and Samuel D. Pollard, edited by Giovanni Autran, Annukka Lilja and Blair McClendon with supervising editor Doug Blush, Mr. SOUL! features rare archival performances and new interviews with many of the African American icons of the twentieth century.
SOUL! captured a seminal moment in American broadcast history, a turning point in an era of immense struggle. It marked the emergence of undiluted black culture and entertainment on television, and the advent of 20th century black pop music. Mr. SOUL! presents a vivid portrait of this largely unknown yet enormously influential television series and the remarkable man who brought his personal vision of inclusion and social change to people across America.